Business Intelligence For Dummies
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Business intelligence process creates an environment for better decision-making. To make successful business decisions, you need to gain insight in business intelligence, follow the main steps of the key performance indicators (KPI) cycle, find the best source to store and process operational data, and assess and use standard business intelligence applications.

Business intelligence insights

To help your company drive smart decisions and improve the way you do business, check out this variety of forms that can provide insight into business intelligence (BI).

  • Query responses: Raw data produced by the BI system, allowing the user to draw immediate conclusions

  • Reports: Structured and formatted data, built as part of a scheduled event, or on the fly as an ad hoc report

  • Derived Analysis: Insights produced by interpretation of a front-end system’s output, after that application has applied rules, heuristics, other business information, and context to it, such as in a dashboard or scorecard

Essential steps of the key performance indicators cycle

Business intelligence (BI) is an activity, tool, or process that allows businesses to create clarity and support around their decision-making approach by determining key performance indicators (KPIs). The success level of any business endeavor can almost be measured or quantified in some aspect:

Step 1: Build or define the core business strategy or objectives

Step 2: Specify progress metrics (KPIs), and define thresholds that indicate degrees of success.

Step 3: Measure performance over time as a baseline

Step 4: Adjust tactics and gauge correlative changes in success metrics

Step 5: Apply lessons to subsequent strategy definition

But business intelligence is very much a cultural phenomenon, moving away from gut-feel strategic choices and moving toward an evidence-driven rational approach to business.

Common operational data sources in business intelligence

Businesses digitally store a tremendous amount of operational data, and for business intelligence to function, it needs wide-open roads between data sources. Mainframe legacy systems still form the foundation of many companies’ data centers because of their ability to process and harbor huge quantities of data. However, their data is notoriously difficult to get to as many of the legacy applications are obsolete, proprietary, or pre-standards software. Other options for data sources are:

  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): Often implemented throughout the organization in modules that map to specific business domains, such as supply-chain, human resources, finance, accounts payable, and so on. ERP systems store a lot of transactional data used in today’s BI environments.

  • Customer Relationship Management: A common data source for business intelligence, CRM systems do just what they say: they process and store customer profile and behavior information, like purchase activity.

  • E-Commerce: Web applications can act as source data systems for business intelligence platforms by feeding real-time sales activity.

Common business intelligence applications

When choosing a business intelligence application, your goal is put an effective Business Intelligence (BI) solution into place, and you’re looking at processes and software. This list represents some of the more frequently used BI applications:

Source Data

  • Microsoft: SQL Server, Access

  • Oracle: Oracle 11g

  • SAP: N/A

  • IBM: DB2

  • Business Objects: N/A

ETL, Data Integration, Warehousing

  • Microsoft: Integration Services aka SSIS (formerly known as DTS)

  • Oracle: Warehouse Builder


  • IBM: DB2 Data Warehouse, Warehouse ManagerWebSphere DataStage (ETL) IBM Information Server

  • Business Objects: Business Objects XI R2: Data Integrator (ETL) Data Federator (virtualization) Rapid Marts (standard platform data marts)

Query and Analysis

  • Microsoft: SQL Server Analysis Services, Access, Excel

  • Oracle: Warehouse Builder, Oracle Hyperion Essbase

  • SAP: Netweaver BI

  • IBM: Various

  • Business Objects: Business Objects XI R2: Web Intelligence (query tool) Voyager (OLAP) Desktop Intelligence (query tool)

Reporting, Information

  • Microsoft: SQL Server Reporting Services, Access

  • Oracle: BI Suite Enterprise & Standard Editions: query, analysis, reporting, Siebel Answers, Interactive Dashboards

  • SAP: Netweaver BI

  • IBM: BIRT, Design Studio, Alphablox

  • Business Objects: Crystal Reports

Other Front-End Tools

  • Microsoft: Excel Pivot Tables, PerformancePoint 2007 (enterprise scorecarding)

  • Oracle: Oracle Data Mining

  • SAP: Netweaver BI

  • IBM: IBM Intelligent Miner (data mining)

  • Business Objects: Crystal Xcelsius (visualization tools), Crystal Vision (dashboard), InfoView (BI portal)

Specialty Apps

  • Microsoft: MS Sharepoint Server 2007 (report distribution)

  • Oracle: Business domain operational analytics applications, Hyperion System 9 Financial Management, Financial Planning

  • SAP: ERP Software, Financial Analytics (formerly Outlooksoft)

  • IBM: Websphere Content Discovery (unstructured search)

  • Business Objects: Information OnDemand (hosted BI solutions), Performance Management (Formerly Cartesis)

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Swain Scheps is Manager of Business Analysis at Brierley + Partners, Inc. and a technology veteran making his first foray into the world of book authoring. He wrote the masterpiece resting in your hands with a great deal of input and inspiration from BI guru and fellow For Dummies author Alan R. Simon.
In the late 1990’s Swain, along with most people reading this book, had his dot-com boom-to-bust experience with a company called. . .well, that’s not really important now is it. (Anyone interested in buying some slightly underwater stock options should contact the publisher immediately.) After that there were consulting stints at Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, and Best Crossmark developing sales support applications and reporting tools. As of this writing, Swain basks under the fluorescent lights of Brierley, a technology company whose specialty is building customer relationship and loyalty management systems for retailers. The author has had the opportunity to learn from the very best as Brierley also provides unparalleled business intelligence and analytics services for its clients.
Swain lives in Dallas, Texas with wife Nancy and a mere four dogs. He writes about more than just technology; his work has appeared in Fodor’s travel guide books, military history magazines, and even another For Dummies book.

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