Why business intelligence?

Business Intelligence
Business Intelligence

 

So much is said about companies and organizations having too much data and not knowing what to do with it.  It’s not a cliche, it’s the truth.  Now more than ever, companies are collecting data in multiple ways and storing it in their databases.  But what good does it do if it’s not used for anything.  It is of big value, but only until you dig into it and start answering questions with it.  That’s where Business Intelligence (BI) comes in.

Now, you don’t wake up one day and ask your IT dept. to give you BI and that’s it.  In order to build a successful BI team, several things have to happen, and we can find out if we are on the right track by answering the following questions:

 

What data do we have?

The first thing is to do before creating a Business Intelligence team or department, is look into the databases and have an overview of what data we have.  Is it structured or unstructured?  Is it about inventory, views, visitors, transactions, etc.

Once we get a grasp of the kind of data we have, then we can come up with a couple of questions to answer with it, in order to get the ball rolling.  As time goes by, new questions will arise.  And not all the data will exist in the current databases, so it will need to be collected.  It becomes a cycle.

Knowing the data will be the first step into generating insights from it.

Can it answer business questions?

You have a pretty good idea of the data you’re dealing with.  Now it’s time to see if it can actually answer business questions.  How much inventory did we have on a given date?  How many patients did we see in the last month?  What is the trend regarding product purchases? If these are the kind of questions we might be able to answer, then data analysis will put us on the right track.

In the end it’s called Business Intelligence, so business is a big part of it.

Do we have the right tools?

We have the data, and it looks like we’ll be able to answer business questions with it.  But, do we have the right tools to extract it and visualize it?  Which tools we select really depends on the company and the current technologies being used.  Some companies will have their applications within the AWS ecosystem, while others will stick to Microsoft technologies.  It doesn’t matter if you choose  AWS Redshift, MS SQL Server, Oracle or Teradata, you will have tools available to to BI work.

There are several ways to extract the data from the data sources and putting it into the Data Warehouse.  It can be using tools developed in-house or third party products.

The essentials in my toolbox are:

  1. AWS Redshift as the data warehouse.
  2. Attunity and some python scripts for ETL (extract, load and transform).
  3. Tableau for visualizations.
  4. PostgreSQL client like SQLWorkbech/j  In my case, to connect to AWS Redshift.

AWS Redshift    Attunity        Python     Tableau

Are we asking the right questions?

The answers will be as good as the questions that are being asked.  If we ask our data “Which is our nicest product?” just like that, we might be asking a dumb question.  But if we ask the same question and now specifying that the answer should be based on customer reviews, then we would be getting somewhere.

“How long does it take a customer from the time he opens the site until he makes a purchase?”  This type of question will lead to knowing our business and understand our customers better.  So in this case yes, we are taking advantage of  sales data.

Do insights lead to actions?

Finally, after asking the questions and getting answers.  What can we do with them. Are we measuring vanity metrics? Or are they actionable?  Both types are acceptable. But if you really want to take advantage you might want to look into the actionable ones.

 

If the answers fail to convince us, we might need review and find out what is it that we are lacking.  This approach will let you have a large number of visualizations, containing a big amount of graphs and numbers, which is what the C-level executives will be looking at.

 

With great power comes great responsibility.  Remember that whatever you deliver, the C-suite will trust you.

So, if you’re embarking into the BI world, make sure to at least check the points above.  Once you verify you have what you need, you can start building your team.

 

Would you like to know if your business is going well or not?  Start digging into the data and see what it tells you.

 

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