Business Intelligence is a very trendy term these days, managers want it, IT companies are selling it and users are loving the colors of the charts, the ability to drill and roll up between hierarchies drives them crazy, however most of them don´t know what Business Intelligence really is. They often refer to it as building a data warehouse where all company data is integrated with ETL tools like SQL Server Integration Services and analyzed with Analytical tools as SQL Server Analysis Services or even Excel. I am sorry guys, if you think BI is only about this, you are either using it or making it wrong. And start by thinking in this, although emails are a great technology, if you need to talk to a college seated right next to you, will you send him and email? What is the core of your problem here, the communication channel or the message being sent?
Business Intelligence is a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Iron Man, being the first the ability to understand problems by looking at facts in different perspectives and the second, the state of the art data gathering, integration and visualization technologies. If you though that BI was only about creating Data warehouses, a lot of dashboards and playing with cubes you were only looking at Iron Man, loosing the ability of deduction and problem solving that Sherlock Holmes provides you.
Think about your company, you are gathering a lot of data, from different sources that’s correct, but why do you want it? To create knowledge right? Than start thinking on how your data can help you creating useful knowledge, start by understanding the context of your need of knowledge. BI is a decision support system so it will help you take decisions based on facts that reflect the reality of your company, although it won’t decide for you, it will provide you the information you need to make sure you are going in the right way to accomplish your organizational objectives.
You only need BI if you feel that your decisions need to be sustained with more knowledge or if you need a mechanism to guide your management. With this I mean that before jumping into the development of an IRON MAN suit you need Sherlock Holmes skills to identify and understand your problem, if there is really one. Wanting dashboards and cubes just because someone else has, doesn´t count Another important feature about Business Intelligence is that it only makes sense if its built on top of your companies goals and strategies, otherwise the Key Performance Indicators you are using won’t be aligned with the reality of your company and the BI results will be wrong, useless and disappointing.
The first task when dealing with Business Intelligence shouldn´t be creating a data integration plan, nor defining the best tools to the ETL process, the first and most important stage should be thinking about the knowledge lack you have, and how having it could it be used to help you, so that Business Intelligence can deliver you the answers you are expecting, this way it can become the navigational systems your company need, not to drive the car for you, but to tell you the paths you can take to achieve success and never feel lost.
Never forget Sherlock Holmes, otherwise you might be developing a plane when what you need is just a bicycle, never underestimate the problem and its context. Business Intelligence is not just technology, is a Management tool, and like any tool, should only be used when need.