What is Business Intelligence?

Mark Tossell
May 17, 2018

At its core, business intelligence (BI) is the implementation of a suite of software and dashboards to understand business data in a way that helps organisations make better decisions. But, we believe it’s more than that. It’s a journey that represents a fundamental change to the way an organisation utilises and values its data.

It’s knowing the metrics at the root of a business’ success.

It’s structuring business practices to ensure the accuracy of your data

It’s seeing data as competitive advantage for your organisation.

Through our work helping organisations transform their business intelligence solutions we often encounter questions about the process and solutions that we use to support an organisation on this journey. This post aims to provide a brief outline of the terms and concepts that are often covered.

Metrics at the root of a business’ success

At the start of the business intelligence journey is defining your core business objectives.

Typically we find that an iterative interrogative process (similar to the ‘5 Whys’ technique in problem solving) helps get to the heart of each goal.

Initially asking the question “What does a success look like for you?”

Based on strategic goals that come as a response, we then probe further to define the associated Key Performance Indicators.  There may be a number of KPIs for each goal.

Our third iterative question delves further; what business actions or activities drive this KPI?

Once this key phase is completed, the solutioning can begin.

What data, integration and visualisation do we need to understand these elements more clearly?

Management Support

Importantly, the largest single reason for an organisation’s effectiveness at data and analytics has been shown to be management buy-in. In McKinsey’s 2016 study ‘The need to lead in data and analytics’ – 25% of Senior Leaders identified ‘Ensuring senior management involvement in data and analytics’ as the main driver of success.

Integrated Data

The most common challenge organisations have in using data as an asset is that their data is disparate and inconsistent. How do we support multiple teams – each using their own carefully prepared macro-enabled spreadsheets – to trust a central source of truth for performance measurement?

This is a significant challenge for enterprises and small business alike. We’re excited by the growth in the number of options now available to organisations to solve this challenge (more about this later). Success typically comes with the selection of an an analytics and visualisation tool that provides these three elements to users to help success:

  • The ability to simply connect multiple data sources (SaaS tools and static Excel spreadsheets) to a visualisation tool,
  • The ability to transform and align the connected data, through
  • A user interface that is simple and easy to use

Ultimately, we’ve found that Salesforce Analytics ability to load data through ready-made connectors, the ability to intelligently prepare and clean data, and the pervasiveness of the Salesforce platform as a CRM has made this platform our preferred analytics solution.


A good Business Intelligence Dashboard is one that provides a snapshot of the key performance drivers of an organisation, or individual role, in real-time.

A great one predicts and alerts management to challenges or opportunities in order for executives to exercise real management control.

It is often said, that managing via traditional static data and multiple spreadsheets is like trying to steer a car only looking in the rear vision mirror.

The three benefits we’ve found that BI Dashboards offer are that:

  1. Recall: Dashboards allow you to know the numbers of your business. The exercise of defining the key metrics that impact business operations, in combination with their depiction with easily understood visuals, encourages management to really know their numbers.

  3. Performance Management: Having the capability to track business and employee performance in real-time provides performance management and process improvement opportunities that would otherwise have been unidentified.

  5. Time Saving:  In many of the organisations that we support, (and our own businesses until a few years ago!) key management dashboards were manually collated from exports from multiple systems via complex macro-enabled spreadsheets. This process was time consuming, and inevitably proved difficult to dive deeper into our data when real business questions were asked by management. So the business is burdened with the dual challenge of the significant manpower required to create the original report, and the real impact of the decision making lag time when further investigation is required.


We’re often asked about the variety of analytics solutions that an enterprise can choose to enable data-led decision making. We’re excited about the world of solutions that organisations can choose from and the innovation that solution providers like Salesforce, Tableau, & Qlikview are bringing to the table.

While this is a broader procurement process, we’ve found that the following key criteria act as the foundational considerations in the selection of a platform.

  1. Integration with existing systems:
    How do the solutions you’re considering integrate with your existing enterprise architecture? Are there out-of-the-box connectors available? Inevitably the majority of analytics solutions are loaded with data integration options, but mapping out your enterprise architecture and making sure your chosen solution ‘plays nice’ is a great starting point

  3. Ease of Use:
    The success of an analytics and visualisation tool hangs heavily on the user experience. A solution will fail if only a small number of highly trained data scientists can manipulate a dashboard. Don’t underestimate the value that simple ease of use, and well presented visualisations has on the overall success of the data transformation.

  5. How can you quickly prove your ROI?
    The historical stigma with large data transformation or analytics projects, is that they have over-promised and under-delivered – rarely reaching the benefits projected in a multiple year business case.

Implementing a minimum viable product analytics solution in order to quickly demonstrate the value that can be delivered is a fantastic way to begin the journey.



Business intelligence does typically result in the implementation of a technology solution, however it’s so much more than that. We’re excited about enabling leaders to exercise real management control over their organisation.