Business intelligence (BI) refers to the technology and data infrastructure of an organization. BI has become a broad term that encompasses several related technologies and processes, including:

BI parses all the data generated by a business and presents easy-to-digest reports, performance measures, and trends that inform management decisions.

Key Takeaways

  • Business intelligence is the technological toolkit used by a company to collect and analyze internal data.
  • These technologies may include an array of IT solutions from hardware and physical sensors to software platforms and cloud computing.
  • Data collected by BI systems are often displayed visually as charts or graphs on a graphical dashboard interface.

What Is Business Intelligence?

Although business intelligence technologies have several functions, their main function is to support a company's decision-making process and to help knowledge workers, such as managers and research analysts, make better and faster decisions.

Business intelligence represents the scope of IT tools that a firm uses to gather and analyze internal, company-specific information in order to make informed data-driven decisions. These various tools and software platforms combine to comprise robust systems that allow a company to gather, store, and analyze raw business data in a way that helps it make the right decisions.

Business intelligence systems normally operate to collect data in the areas of customer support, market research, competitive intelligence, product performance, and other areas that benefit from statistical analysis.

How Business Intelligence Is Used in Different Industries

Functions of business intelligence technologies vary by industry. For example, they are used in manufacturing for order shipment and customer support, in retail for user targeting and profiling, in financial and banking services for claims and risk analysis, in transportation for fleet management, in telecommunications for understanding customer drop-off rates, and in power and utilities for power usage analysis.

The technology-driven process of business intelligence involves a variety of functions, technology tools, applications, and methodologies that help a company collect data, prepare analyses, develop and conduct queries of databases, and create reports. Every function is used to support business decisions.

Business Intelligence Data

The data used in business intelligence can include historical as well as newly gathered data obtained from novel sources. Business intelligence then takes all of that data and combines it into a broad set of data analysis applications and functions.

Specific business intelligence technologies may include:

  • Ad hoc analysis
  • Data querying & discovery
  • Data warehousing
  • Enterprise reporting
  • Online analytical processing
  • Data visualization software
  • Dashboards
  • Performance scorecards
  • Cloud services
  • Supply chain analytics
  • Machine learning and artificial intelligence

The Bottom Line

Overall, business intelligence is a data analysis process aimed at boosting company performance in relation to its competitors by helping end-users within the company make more informed decisions. Business intelligence applications with unique and important functions can be bought separately from third-party vendors or as part of a single business intelligence platform.