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Business Intelligence Software

Business Intelligence or "BI" software is a set of tools that allow decision-makers in a company to more easily make sense of data, thereby enabling them to more efficiently manage their business and to improve company profitability. It is a form of decision-support reporting, but it has characteristics that distinguish it from more typical reporting.

One such characteristic may be the sheer volume of data that drives the reports. Business Intelligence is often associated with “Data Warehousing” or “Big Data”. Tons of data from possibly a variety of sources both from systems within the business as well as from external sources may be pulled together and correlated in order to produce a report that assists a decision-maker. For example, a business revolving around agricultural processes may even pull in historical weather data to correlate with production numbers and help a decision-maker discern the effect the weather had, if any, on the variations in production he is seeing in the report.

Ploughing through tons of data to produce a report within seconds in this way usually involves specialized database structures or “schemas” that lend themselves to rapid retrieval and comparison of data. So, this type of system, an OLAP – Online Analytical Processing system, typically has an altogether different database structure than an OLTP – Online Transactional Processing system. An OLTP system is often designed more for efficient entry and storage of data rather than for the rapid data retrieval associated with an OLAP system. An OLAP system may even involve specialized database software designed with this purpose in mind. To pull OLTP data into an OLAP system usually involves Extract, Transform and Load or ETL processes. Some of these may run nightly, hourly, or even more frequently, so as to keep the OLAP data as current as is needed.

Another characteristic of Business Intelligence Software is the way in which the data is presented in a “report”. The target audience of such reports is often a business executive, not a technical data analyst. The reporting must be fast, easy-to-use, may make use of visual depictions of the data in the form of graphs and charts or other Key Performance Indicators (KPI), and may include “drill-down” capability. For example, if the user sees an anomaly in the data, such as a dip or peak in profitability or production, and he wants to “drill-down” into that data to see what is behind the anomaly, he should be able to do so with the click of a mouse and instantly see more detail that helps him to understand the “why” behind the data.

In short, Business Intelligence software should allow for the rapid retrieval of meaningful data as well as for the rapid exploration, or “drilling into” that data to enable a decision-maker to see what is happening with his business and why.

Below are some software products related to Business Intelligence: