Welcome to a new series of blogs that discuss BI (Business Intelligence), Data Analytics and Reporting.  We will discuss, why, what and how showing how it all hangs together.  We also have some guest blogs coming from some of the leading software vendors in this space, plus expert opinion and advice.

Today we start with Why BI?  Let’s start with a definition:

Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence is an umbrella term that refers to a variety of software applications used to analyse an organisation’s raw data.  BI as a discipline is made up of several related activities, including data mining, online analytical processing, querying and reporting, all of which we will look at over the series of blogs.  These software applications are often referred to as Business Intelligence Tools.

These tools further extend our definition to explain that Business Intelligence Tools are essentially data-driven Decision Support Systems (DSS) and with these tools, business people can start analysing the data themselves, rather than wait for IT to run complex reports.

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Here is the Why?

This information access helps users back up business decisions with hard numbers, rather than only gut feelings and anecdotes.

And how can I generalise and demonstrate this without delving into very specific business processes that in themselves are probably difficult to follow and understand.  Here we go:

When I was a lad and indeed into my early adult years trips out in the car were planned using good old paper maps and the companion type map books produced by the “AA” and “RAC” (other motoring organisations are available).  The companion books not only had actual road maps but also a grid showing the distances between cities so route planning was a case of pen, paper and whatever maps were available.  It was then the duty of one of the passengers to use the route plan to do the navigation leaving the driver to concentrate on the road.  So, in this instance the “Business” was the task of driving from A to B and the “Intelligence” was the route plan we had created.  The maps and distance charts were the data and our brains were the intelligence to produce the interface (the route card) giving the instructions and between these two we would arrive at our destination in a hopefully calm and unstressed condition.  That is unless the person in charge of the route plan got car sick and became debilitated or the handwriting could not be deciphered and then what happens if there is road diversion?

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Fast forward to 1993 when the US controlled Global Positioning System became active giving any one with a suitable device the opportunity to have their position on the earth’s surface accurately determined.  But no-one except the US government agencies and the military had a device.  The US based GPS system was first conceived in the mid 1960’s and the first satellite launched in 1978. From conception to production took 30 years!!!

I’m not sure if Tom Tom, a Dutch based business start-up making PDA’s was the first but in 2002 they released their first portable navigation device to make use of GPS data.  But, the device needed more than the location data.  It required maps, the same as we used before GPS. Maps were built into the device so we now have data from two sources which need to be synchronised to be able to calculate any route requested.  It also needed a display that could show the route and deep within the logic and ability to recalculate the route should a diversion occur and display that new route.

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Fast forward to 2017 and my navigation device has the same basic logic but I can select fastest or quickest or most economical routes.  I can preview and amend the route, find nearest museums, car parks, cinemas and many other amenities.  Load in my own destinations like supermarkets (guess who does the shopping in our house). I can display in 2D or 3D, have lane guidance to help me through complicated junctions, know my ETA and distance to go.  All great things to make the journey easier.  And my device is not prone to car sickness!

Let’s have a look at this product in terms of Business Intelligence.  In a Sat Nav system we have several components:

Feeds from Satellites, built in maps (which can be updated) and manual intervention (where to and the type of route, Quickest, Fastest etc.)  – Data

Built in logic and algorithms to make the calculations – Intelligence

A display that shows the results – Output

All combined to make the Business of driving more reliable.

Think how much time, effort and money have gone into providing those data feeds and maintaining their accuracy.

Think of the time, effort and cost of designing the algorithms and business logic within the device.

And all displayed on a user-friendly interface to make it easy to operate.

The accuracy of this BI system leaves very few decisions to be made by the driver but they are still decisions – obey the Sat Nav or not. This level of accuracy could be touching the world of Artificial Intelligence – why not just let the car get on with it? In all cases, actual Business Intelligence stops at the display and has to have human decision making to finalise the process. However, Satellite Navigation Systems are a good example of the components needed in Business Intelligence and we’ll go on to explore these and other aspects of Bi in later blogs.

Want to know more about BI, Data Analytics or business software in general?  Or do you have suggestions for future blogs?  Please comment or complete the contact form below.

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