Business Intelligence - Turning data into information
Data. It's all around us and it's being collected at an ever increasing rate. Companies know that with
data comes the potential for deep insights into their operations, customers, employees and financials.
Turning raw data into useful information is the key goal behind business intelligence (BI) and Microsoft's
platform of technologies can be leveraged to provide a complete business intelligence solution. This
article will focus on some of the different Microsoft products and technologies that can be used to build
a compelling BI solution for your company.
What is Business Intelligence
Before we jump into the different Microsoft tools and technologies, it may be beneficial to answer a
basic question. What is business intelligence?
Ask five different people what business intelligence and you will most likely get five different
answers. To put it simply, business intelligence is turning data into useful information. It
involves the skills, processes, and technology to improve organizations by providing business insights
to all employees. This in turn leads to better, faster, and more relevant decisions being made on a
Business Intelligence "Layers"
Now that we have a common understanding of what BI is it will be helpful to view the different
"layers" that are involved.
Figure 1. Business Intelligence Layers
As Figure 1 shows, there are four primary layers that are involved with a BI soltuion.
- Data - These are all of the different sources that can provide the raw data.
This data can come from various places including relational databases, flat files, mainframes,
and external sources such as web sites.
- Platform - The platform is what is used to bring all of the different data
sources together. This is a crucial piece of any BI implementation because it provides a central
location to access the collected data.
- Application - This layer is where end-users will access and work with the data
directly. The applications will typically be installed on users' desktops and allow them to work with
and explore the data as they turn it into useful information.
- Delivery - The delivery layer is how the information is communicated to the
organization. This is the primary mechanism used to communicate information to users both within
and outside the organization.
Each of these layers can be split into even more granular categorizations and it would take several
articles to discuss each one in-depth. This article will focus on the areas that are directly related to
end-user BI tools (the sections highlighted in green in Figure 1).
BI Across the Enterprise
So now that we’ve established that there are different layers to a BI solution, let’s take a look at
how BI is incorporated at different levels of an organization. To begin discussing the tools that can
be used for turning data into information we need to focus on three main levels: Personal, Departmental,
Figure 2. BI Tools at Organizational Levels
Personal BI is focused on agility and personal productivity. Identifying the tools that users need to have
available on a daily basis to work with the data and make fast, accurate decisions. When we talk about
personal BI, tools like Excel, PowerPivot, Access, and
Visio are the topic of discussion. These are the tools that users already have installed
on their workstations and are familiar with using in their daily activities. By embedding BI capabilities
in the products that users are already familiar with, the learning curve is reduced and companies can further
leverage their investment in products that they already own.
Departmental BI is focused on enabling groups and teams to work together to complete projects. Accountability
across the team is made possible by collaboration and rapid sharing of information to drive to a common decision.
Tools including Excel Services, Visio Services, Access Services,
and SQL Server Reporting Services are the primary tools that are leveraged at the departmental
level. These tools are utilized directly within SharePoint which itself has many tools that departments can use
to collaborate on team projects.
Organizational BI is focused on aligning activities with overall company goals and objectives. Company goals and
metrics can be effectively communicated to everyone within the organization to create a better understanding of
how individual actions impact company performance. SharePoint provides the foundation for
delivering Organizational BI with features like PerformancePoint Services that enable the
creation of scorecards and dashboards that can effectively communicate relevant and timely information to end
Making it all work together
The key behind BI is making all of the different layers and levels work together to provide the right
information to the right people at the right time and in the right format to help make better decisions.
Making BI work across the organization, at all levels, is what provides the true business value and cost
justification for any BI initiative. Without this level of collaboration between individuals, departments,
and the organization, a BI initiative is at best some nice charts and graphs and at worst months of wasted
time and money.
Contact Deliveron to learn more about how you can invest in a BI implementation that not only leverages your
existing investment in Microsoft products but produces real business value and turns your data into