BI… why?

By Rob Harvey

BI Practice Leader

Uncommon Solutions


Executive Summary:


Business Intelligence [BI] has become a “must-have” for organizations wishing to remain competitive, efficient, responsive and relevant.


BI offers the most current ideas, methods and technology to empower fact-based decision-making and a rational approach to management.


Jim Collins, during the research that resulted in his first bestselling book Good to Great, discovered that all “Great” companies develop a strong discipline that becomes core to their culture and decision making.  Jim calls this discipline “facing the brutal truth”.  Successful companies seek first to clearly understand, then acknowledge, accept and strongly respond to, the “truth”.


So - just what is this brutal truth, and where do we find it?


Let’s define the truth as what actually IS.   Objective reality, we also might call it.


Sergeant Joe Friday would say it is “Just the facts, ma’am”.


OK – so we’re after the facts – data – accurate detailed measurements of the current state - objective reality.


Business Intelligence solutions enable organizations to organize and understand the “facts”– in real-time when possible – to empower fast and accurate decision-making.


These agile responsive organizations will lead their less-responsive peers by a significant margin.



Business Intelligence – Defined:


There are a lot of definitions for Business Intelligence – let’s work with this one:


“Business Intelligence consists of Methods, Practices, and Systems for enriching raw data in specific context-relevant ways in order to enable more effective understanding, analysis, and decision-making.”


BI – Past, Present, Future


Past:  BI, as a set of practices, has been around as long as there have been computers in businesses – because using the data generated and stored in computers to generate “reports” and “views” to inform people about “the facts” is fundamental to why computers were developed in the first place.


The term BI, and the BI marketplace comprised of the software, experts, and software makers – is about 20 years old.


Since organizations started designing and using data warehouses to store purpose-built copies of transactional system data gathered over time – a constantly-growing group of smart people and software vendors have been hard at work helping organizations figure out ways to create actionable insights from the raw data generated by operational transaction systems, third-party data sources, web sites, etc.


The primary initial uses of the information stored in data warehouses was for custom reports, then later to provide ad-hoc or at-a-moments-notice data access and analysis, and eventually data mining  and analytics – complex statistical pattern-recognition and analytical processing.


These early efforts were complex, very expensive, and included all the standard challenges that every new area of science and technology faces:

Rudimentary and very complex software tools

A scarcity of technical and business experts to figure out how to apply these tools to real world business scenarios in ways that create real value

A lot of experimentation and “failure”


Present:  As these BI science experiments were going on over the first decade or so of BI’s initial emergence as a distinct specialty – important lessons were being learned, and both technical and business people were getting excited about the potential of this new area of IT.  A LOT of money was being invested both by companies wanting to realize the benefits of BI and by software vendors wanting to become leading providers of the toolsets used to build solutions.


The “Platform Evolution” emerged in the second decade of BI’s lifetime – and these integrated sets of software tools began to lower the levels of investment, technical expertise, complexity and risk required to create solutions delivering real business value.


A handful of vendors have emerged as clear leaders in the BI software market, and their uniqueness, strengths and weaknesses, and areas of strongest fit have been closely analyzed, compared, and reported on by the usual suspects – analysts [Gartner, Forrester, et al], consultants, large customers, etc.


As the technology tools have matured in both power and ease of use, the community of people who know how to design, build, implement, and support BI solutions has also grown substantially.  The combination of better software tools and more BI professionals has created a strongly growing industry that is creating sustainable business value in virtually every business vertical and operational domain.


Future:  These trends should continue – as BI becomes ubiquitous, deeply embedded within most business processes and supporting systems, toward a point of BI becoming invisible, assumed and taken for granted.


In general – the platforms and tools used to build and use BI have become so advanced and mature – that BI solutions are now more cost effective, powerful, and easier to use than ever before.  As a result, the audience of candidate companies and uses have expanded exponentially.


Specific areas of strong innovation and growth:


Data Discovery and Visualization – The ability to represent sets of data in visually creative and intuitive ways (such as info-graphics, 3d data visualization, etc.) is becoming less complex, more flexible, and less costly.  Presenting large amounts of relevant well-integrated data in ways that are quickly understood supports better and faster decision-making.


Cost vs. Power - The costs of both processing power and data storage have been steadily falling since the birth of BI 20 years ago. Processing and storage are moving toward commodity pricing and utility-levels of availability. These developments greatly increase the candidate list of BI projects with strong ROI.

Data, data, DATA!!! – The modern world is generating, and attempting to capture and store, more data during each successive 5 year period than during its entire history.  This startling and interesting phenomenon intuitively seems to contain a wealth of opportunity and promise.

This incredible growth of data – in volume, velocity, and variety – presents great challenges and strong opportunities to create value - if we can create systems that provide quicker “time-to-insight” and enable agility in crafting effective responses.


Embedded Analytics

  • Analytics: n. - the use of software algorithms to recognize patterns in data sets and data flows, and the use of models to understand the past relationships, dependencies, and trends and the use of these to predict the future
  • Embedded: adj. – deeply contained within


The use of analytics software will become more pervasive toward a point of being ubiquitous - like internet access, Wi-Fi and cellular coverage have become over the past couple of decades.  These solutions will allow for increased computer-based decision-making.  Systems will be trained to automatically respond to “recognized patterns” with rules-based decision-making.


As these decision-making capabilities are increasingly embedded in operational systems, simple repetitive decision-making will be pushed further downstream from people and into the software systems. This will free people to do more of what people are uniquely capable of doing – making “one-off” decisions in unique situations where emotion, subtle context, intuition and flexible judgment are required.  This evolution of decision-support capabilities dramatically improves responsiveness and net productivity.


Mobile BI – Rich full-featured BI will be increasingly available on mobile devices allowing

Real-time intelligent alerting to specific people in context-specific ways.

When “problems” arise, the right person can be notified immediately of the situation, and an effective response can begin.  Leveraging the power of BI in these scenarios means that while your team is pursuing an accurate understanding of the situation that created the “alert” notice, and formulating the most appropriate response – the BI solution that created the “alert” / problem notification might also provide access to detailed information about the underlying causes of the problem, sources of the alert, real-time contact information for responsible and capable parties for resolution, etc.


Call to Action:


Standard BI practices and platforms implemented in proprietary and creative ways can create sustainable competitive advantage.


As Business Intelligence becomes a necessity for modern organizations, a well-designed BI Program that tightly aligns with key business priorities, optimized processes, and cultural norms will deliver critical value.


To find out if your organization qualifies for Uncommon Solutions’ “BI Program Opportunity Assessment” and how Microsoft BI Technology (such as SQL, SharePoint, PowerView, etc.) can give you an edge over the competition – Please contact:


Rob Harvey

Practice Leader

Business Intelligence


Call Us! – 303.488.9190