For several years now, data collection technology has opened up the ability for businesses to gather and intelligently use data regarding their products and services, their consumers, their internal and external operations, their finances, their overall success, and countless other areas in which quantitative and qualitative data can be collected. Today businesses of all sizes are learning to take advantage of modern data collection tools to gain insight into each of these areas and supplement greater long-term growth. And with such a large amount of data pouring in, it’s not uncommon that many numbers go untouched and unused, their potential for process improvements never realized and their enriching insights never revealed.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. Oftentimes, business leaders or those professionals responsible for making use of this data face the challenge of sifting through cluttered databases and attempting to react quickly to data relevant to their most immediate business needs. This scramble for insights isn’t efficient or effective and causes many organizations to miss out on key opportunities to improve their business functions, customer journey, and long-term success. We live in a data culture, so in order to “fit in” and stay competitive, companies need to build a modern business intelligence (BI) platform that ensures good, clean data is captured, secured, and delivered to end users for maximum use potential.

If you and your team are still a little cloudy about the power of BI in today’s business world, here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions surrounding this strategic tool.

What are the business intelligence basics?

Business intelligence encompasses both the strategies and technologies used to collect, analyze, and review business information in order to support decision-making within a business. But many businesses today are behind in terms of adopting the right advanced technology to make the most of their efforts. An essential piece of any modern BI plan is the technology that complements it. Going beyond the Excel spreadsheet is where you’ll find the most success.

  • Situation: A large media firm manually publishes analytics and reports via hard copy PDFs once a week, struggling to collect and review timely data and make well-informed decisions.
  • BI Application: With a BI tool like Microsoft Power BI, the firm is able to access a live web-based dashboard to view KPIs securely and in real time. They can consolidate reports into a single view and quickly manipulate the view on a desktop or mobile device based on their needs without the help of a programmer. They can understand the data in plain language for easy interpretation and use.
  • Results: The firm is able to make more informed decisions in near real time, increasing their productivity and collaboration. They can democratize their data, easily access it, and add security measures where they weren’t before.

Companies that invest in modern BI tools—such as Tableau and Power BI and other platforms that offer data map views and dynamic capabilities—can access interactive reports and improved visualization to see and explore data in new ways and can understand the insights this data presents in a clear, user-friendly way. With these technologies, professionals don’t need to be scientists or programmers to interpret data and take action, and they can easily integrate multiple data sources into a single easy-to-use platform.

Why is business intelligence a competitive advantage?

BI is a competitive advantage for businesses that take it seriously. They see increased revenue, improved internal operations, boosted productivity, reduced expenses, and many other important benefits. The ROI of using a business intelligence platform is also greater than managing data in a lesser database or through DIY or manual efforts. With a BI tool, professionals are connected to the right information at the right time to make more informed, faster decisions, and are able to deliver relevant, accurate, and timely answers to pressing business questions to generate new revenue streams and proactively solve problems.

Every industry can use and benefit from business intelligence, and if they fail to keep up with this new requirement for data and analytics, they will come to regret their decision to ignore such a powerful and effective tool.

My business has a large amount of data collected. Now what?

There are many ways to make historical data work for your team, and strategizing for the future of your business is a smart way to go. Use what you have collected to estimate future sales and forecast, set business objectives, optimize your products and services, tailor your existing customer journey to the changing needs of your audiences, and more.

It’s important to note, however, that simply collecting a large amount of data isn’t the key to BI success. Companies that use business intelligence more successfully collect a wide variety of data beyond traditional types, including data from new sources, and they continually search for other areas for data collecting potential. They also adopt new analytic and decision-making tools and capabilities and understand the importance of collecting data frequently to obtain real-time visibility, often opting to collect data once a day or once an hour, which is a major shift in the way we think about information for companies that just collect monthly or weekly.

If you haven’t already done so, you can power up your BI game by democratizing the data, sharing secure numbers and insights with employees, partners, suppliers or customers. Making relevant information accessible to wider range of people allows for empowered and more informed decision-making, heightened collaboration, more innovative data use, more unlocked insights, and relieved burdens on the part of senior staff.

Where is business intelligence headed?

The future of data and analytics, machine learning, and cognitive technology is an open book, but it’s clear that well-structured and well-managed business intelligence is here and evolving. Companies that prioritize smart data use and take advantage of all BI has to offer now will be more prepared to adopt future technologies and remain competitive and thriving businesses.

Want to know more about the strategic use of business intelligence in your industry? Join us at our next Microsoft Briefing event. Details to come soon.