We all wish we had a magic crystal ball that would make our lives easier, whether that means knowing when to change our hairstyle, or when to apply for that dream job.

Business Intelligence

In business, there is no magic crystal ball that will tell us what’s going to happen, but with the right technology, we can get a good idea. Using incredible algorithms and analytics, technology can detect patterns that help you to adjust your business for the future. The use of this technology is called business intelligence.

Business intelligence tools are here to help you manage your business more effectively. Still, many small businesses don’t take advantage of the tools that they have available to them. Small business owners know that they should be analyzing their data but often fail to do so. In fact, the SMB Routes to Market Study found that small businesses reported “getting better insights out of the data they already have” is their primary challenge with technology. There is a common misconception that Business Intelligence Tools are mainly for large businesses and grand corporations. While analytics and other business intelligence tools are helpful to large businesses, they also work well for small businesses.

What is business intelligence and how can it help my small business?

Business Intelligence is software and tools that support the growth of a company through data collected such as department productivity, overall growth, sales trends, and customer behavior. Business Intelligence Tools can range from something as simple as Spreadsheets for the organization, analysis and storage of data to Online Analytical Processing or Reporting and Querying software. Each has a specific use, and offer various benefits to your small business.

Most common Business Intelligence Tools:

  • Reporting and querying software
  • Online analytical processing (OLAP)
  • Digital Dashboards
  • Business Activity Monitoring
  • Local information systems
  • Data Mining
  • Data Warehouse
  • Data Cleansing

Reporting and querying software extracts, sorts, summarizes, and presents selected data. This data could range from sale reports of specific items to a measurement of the efficiency of marketing plans. Sisense, an example of reporting and querying software, is one of the more well-known programs of this type, given that it won the Best Business Intelligence Software Award for 2016. Sisense collects data from multiple sources while offering the ability to complete analytics both on-premise and in the cloud.

Online analytical processing (OLAP) is part of the broader category of Business Intelligence, which also encompasses relational database, report writing, and data mining. Microsoft explains that “OLAP databases are designed to speed up the retrieval of data…It is a sophisticated technology that uses multidimensional structures to provide rapid access to data for analysis”. This is beneficial to your small business as it saves you time and money by constantly retrieving data and reporting its findings to you and your analyst in clear ways that help you improve your business. Looker is a popular example of OLAP software, using simplified language to give businesses a better understanding of their data analytics.

Digital dashboards give you a dashboard view of your data and sources. This is important when you need to view numerous reports and data sources, or when you need to present these findings in one location to numerous employees. This provides a clear representation of the data findings of your business, to anyone from the CEO to the temporary receptionist, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same data-driven goals. In a recent study, it was brought to light that only 40% of the workforce knew about the company’s goals, strategies, and tactics. Tools such as these fill that void by allowing employees the opportunity to be more productive and efficient in working towards the greater good for the business.

Some of the most important Business Intelligence Tools recognize and take advantage of patterns. If your company is losing money, it’s best to know why, and where, so that you can stop it. The same concept works in reverse. If your business is doing well, you’ll want to know specifically how and why in order to continue to do so. There are numerous Business Intelligence tools that can support this way of thinking.

For example, Business activity monitoring refers to the aggregation, analysis, and presentation of real-time information inside the organizations, as well as activities involving its customers and partners. Taking a closer look at all the activities of your business, from an analytical standpoint, would give you clear-cut answers on where there are gaps, and where there aren’t. These tools provide you with the opportunity to ensure that you, your staff, and your business are making efficient use of all your resources, no matter how large or small.

Tableau is one of the top software choices for business activity monitoring. This program helps you make improved decisions based on material and resources usage. This especially helps businesses ensure that they are ordering enough to meet demands while managing their risks.

Additionally, sometimes the answers lie outside of your business. Local information systems focus on collecting data in relation to geographic reporting. Similarly, data mining is the process of discovering patterns in large data sets involving methods at the intersection of machine learning, statistics, and database systems. Recognizing these patterns help you depict optimal opportunities while making smart choices to avoid negative trends.

Domo is a popular program that optimizes the business’s marketing efforts by recognizing and measuring customer engagement through hundreds of different data sources. For example, Domo can help your business collect data from all types of social websites such as LinkedIn and Facebook as well as more technical ones such as Google Analytics and QuickBooks.

The term that is clearly repeated throughout business intelligence is “data”. Some of the most important and most beneficial tools of business intelligence are Data Warehouse and Data Cleansing. Data Warehouse is the storage of the data currently collected as well as previous data. Maintaining a secure and stable storage of important data helps your business to provide professional and trustworthy service. Google Analytics is a great Business Intelligence tool that allows you to improve your data collection. This type of data collection will help you improve your understanding of your audience and prioritize your marketing channels and make smarter advertising placements.

Data Cleansing is the process of monitoring stored data to detect any incorrect or corrupt data. After the file is identified as corrupt or incorrect, then Data Cleansing software works to safely correct or remove the corrupt data without damaging any other files. If you were at your doctor’s office and he prescribed you something that was researched with an 88% error rate, would you still take that pill? Of course not. So why do we continue to use data that is erroneous?

A recent study from the University of Hawaii shows that “88% of spreadsheets contain errors”. If you are storing corrupt files, you could lose other important data, therefore losing time and money. These corrupt or incorrect files can come from a few different sources, with misspellings and missing information being one of the most common errors. Without cleansing this data, your business could be making analytical decisions off incorrect or corrupt data.

Which ones should I choose?

With so many options to choose from, it can be hard to determine which is the best for your business. The great news is that now business intelligence tools aren’t solely for the large corporations with the deep pockets. These systems are extremely affordable, and in fact, some are even free.  For example, you can download Microsoft’s Power BI Desktop app for free with up to 1 GB of data. Once your business grows past those needs it will only cost you $10 a month.

What does this mean for my business?

Business Intelligence Tools are meant to eliminate guesswork while helping to monitor critical metrics. They provide you with valuable insight into your business’s activity and your customer behavior. There is no longer the need for whole teams of analysts and scientists to explain the data in layman’s terms. Now, programs and tools such as these will work as a middleman, giving even the most inexperienced employee access to powerful game-changing data.

These programs also increase your business’s profit, both now and in the future through the use of analytics and science-based predictors. Business Intelligence Tools increase your productivity within your business, as well as improving your efficient reach of a larger audience. Then with your improved business, it ensures that you are able to secure and protect your business and the data in which it holds.

Small businesses don’t grow big by continuing to think small. Businesses grow by having a good understanding of their company’s activities, and the needs of their customers. That requires Business Intelligence. Don’t sidestep Business Intelligence Tools because you aren’t sure if your business is large enough to need it. Take advantage of the tools available to you and make the most of your business today.