What is Business Intelligence and why do I need it?

July 25, 2022
Beth Ruby

When you run a business, you usually focus your attention on the day-to-day tasks that keep things running. Getting your products in and out. Making your customers happy. Maintaining positive relationships with your vendors. These are functional necessities just to keep the lights on. 

All of these tasks generate information. Usually this information just gets accumulated, stored and forgotten. But what if you had the time and the tools to turn this information into knowledge? Knowledge that could lead to better decisions, smoother operations and increased profits. That’s where Business Intelligence comes in. 

What is Business Intelligence? 

Business Intelligence is just a fancy term to describe the ability to compile and connect data from all aspects of your business, and display it in a meaningful way for you to make well-informed decisions. 

Business Intelligence has a reputation for being a complex or intimidating tool reserved for large corporations. The expense and confusion that comes with implementing most BI systems keep many businesses, particularly small and medium-sized ones, from reaping the benefits. But this is an outdated belief. Modern BI is fast, easy to use and totally accessible to all types of companies. It is the most effective way to collect, process, and store raw data so that it can be used to gain insights into your company’s operations. BI transforms disjointed but vital information into charts, graphs, and reports that can be interpreted quickly and shared across your organization. It also allows you to track patterns, make associations, make predictions and much more. 

What are the key benefits? 

Business decisions should not be made based on intuition, hunches or guesswork. But without tools to extract and understand relevant data about your business, those are the main tools at your disposal. BI is at the heart of evidence-based decision making. Here are the three key benefits: 

1 - Visualize data

Our eyes are naturally drawn to colors, patterns, and images. It’s easier and more understandable to look at shapes and graphs than it is to look at a long list of numbers. This is where the data visualization component of BI comes into play. Data visualization extracts data from your business operations and clearly displays it in graphs and charts, allowing you to discover patterns in large data sets quickly.

Let’s say you run a clothing company and want to know what color t-shirt is the most popular. Rather than looking at a long list of orders and potentially making mistakes doing individual calculations, you can make a graph using data already in your system. This graph can instantly answer your specific question and it also presents extra data that you can use to help better understand your business. Being able to visualize sales trends by color, size, season, sales rep or geography, for example, allows for greater awareness so you can take action to capitalize on favorable trends or to reverse negative trends.

2 - Share data 

Storing and recording data is great but it’s useless if no one gets to see it. By using Business Intelligence you can create reports that can be shared throughout your company and beyond. These reports will help you explain the important insights gained through the data you generate on a daily basis. It lets you make impactful observations and share them in a way everyone understands. 

By using a BI tool that is connected into your ERP system or your business management tools, you can collect information from all aspects of your company’s operations in one place. Magically, you can connect your production team with tangible data from your sales team. Or, your finance team can gain a better understanding of what’s happening in the warehouse. Connecting your data and sharing it in accessible reports will improve communications and understanding between departments. 

3 - Make improvements

Data visualization and sharing are important but they both assist with the main goal of Business Intelligence: to improve your business operations. BI opens the door to data-based decisions that can help improve efficiency, reduce costs, improve employee productivity and even impact customer experience. 

Is one product being returned more often than others? How are your sales reps performing by region or by season? Do your shipping times have an impact on customer retention? BI tools provide outputs that will answer these questions for you much faster. Reports and filtered data will help you better understand where you are making and losing money. By identifying bottlenecks in your workflow, you can improve them. Stored and interpreted historical data will provide you with more knowledge and a well-rounded understanding of your current and future outcomes. You will be able to meet your goals while also making realistic predictions about the future of your business.

That sounds great! How do I get it?

Collecting data is easy but collecting accurate data and presenting it in easy to read reports is more complex because data is constantly changing. With most BI tools, the analysis is removed from where the decisions are made. Oftentimes with traditional BI, decision-making at the top of an organization happens seamlessly because they have access to data at the point of decision but front-line workers are blinded with old information because of the lack of access to their intelligence tools. 

Most modern ERP systems and business management software have integrations to Business Intelligence tools. A rare few have the BI functionality built right in so the data is collected and reported in real time. ParagonERP is one of those rare systems. There's no need to worry about spending additional time and money on making sure your BI tool is properly integrated with your ERP. We've already handled that for you. We built our own BI tool and we named it WIGO (for What Is Going On?). By building our reporting tool directly into our software, we give our customers increased access and flexibility for real-time insights at the time of decision-making.

The better way to run your business