BI tools guide for managers

BI tools play a critical role in today’s businesses. This manager’s guide gives a quick overview of business intelligence (BI) tools.

Business intelligence (BI) has emerged as one of the fastest growing disciplines in India. This Manager’s Guide...

to BI tools covers the following topics:


Download the PDF version of  BI tools guide for managers for internal training, presentations, and future reference.


What are BI tools? 

Business intelligence (BI) tools are software programs for analysing and presenting data. This data is then used by organizations to take business decisions. The commonly-used spreadsheet, for example, is a BI tool.

BI tools include software for data mining, online analytical processing (OLAP), statistical analysis, and querying and reporting tools such as dashboards and scorecards. The data used by BI tools is often stored in a data warehouse or data mart.

Organizations use BI tools to obtain a comprehensive picture of their current and past activities and performance. BI tools can aid day-to-day operations as well as future planning and decision making.

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What function do BI tools perform? 

Listed below are six important functions that BI tools help to perform.

  • To report business operations

The most basic use for BI tools is keeping track of everyday business operations. Weekly or monthly reports of a company’s activities can be easily generated using BI tools.

  • To track customer-behavior and sales patterns

Business intelligence gathered over time is useful in tracking customer spending and product sales patterns. BI tools can give an all-round picture of customers and product sales by market segment, region, time period, etc. This information is vital for estimating demand and planning product launches and marketing campaigns.

  • To discern trends and relationships

Digital age businesses have vast quantities of historical and current data on their hands. Discerning short-term and long-term market trends and movements from that data is made possible by BI tools.

  • To measure the impact of marketing campaigns

BI tools can help track and measure the impact of marketing campaigns in terms of product sales and customer responses.

  • To present business data

BI tool interfaces, such as dashboards and scorecards, are useful for presenting data to colleagues and stakeholders during meetings and brainstorming sessions. Vast quantities of data can be quickly queried and presented in the form of easy to read charts and diagrams.

  • To aid future planning

Finally, BI tools are useful for long-term forecasting and planning. BI tools make it easier to wade through and study the large quantities of current and historical data held by the organization. This kind of analysis is vital for forecasting and future planning.

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BI deployment challenges (and how to overcome them) 

BI tools are of immense help in running a business. However, there are a few challenges to overcome before you can make the best use of your BI tools.

  • Ensure enterprise-wide participation in BI tool deployment

The participation of both management and employees is essential to make a BI tool implementation successful. Business data needs to be continually monitored, updated, and archived for it to be of use to the company. Enterprise-wide participation is essential to maintain the accuracy and reliability of available business intelligence.

  • Assess your business needs first

The BI tools you pick need to be integrated with your existing enterprise applications such as ERP, SCM, CRM, etc., to be of value to your company. There are many BI tools available in the market, but not all will be able to meet your specific needs. It’s advisable to run a pilot and user acceptance test before the project can be made enterprise-wide. Do consider hiring a consultant to help you make the best choice.

  • Focus on data quality and data integrity even before deployment begins

BI tools will not deliver all the benefits as promised unless the data used is accurate and reliable. BI tools will be processing vast quantities of data, and maintaining the accuracy and integrity of this data is all-important to the success of BI tool implementations.

  • Appoint qualified personnel

The optimal use of BI tools requires qualified personnel such data architects, OLAP developers, report writers, data champions, etc. They are the ones who will interpret the patterns and trends revealed by BI tools. Untrained personnel may not be able to interpret the data correctly. Currently, The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) and DAMA International offer certification and training in BI subjects. Most BI vendors also offer training on BI tools they sell.

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BI tools: Best practices 

It should be remembered that, ultimately, BI tools are an aid to tracking activities and making decisions. BI tools will help to analyse data or to suggest indicative trends, but decisions need to be made by individuals.

Studying large quantities of data may even reveal false trends and movements that may have no basis in reality. A manager must continue to rely on his business instincts to make the best decisions.

Following best practices can be handy to ensure maximum returns on investments made on BI tools.

  • Ensure that the chosen BI tool can be fully integrated with the existing enterprise applications.
  • Pick BI tools that will expand as business grows.
  • BI tools are expensive. Calculate beforehand the return-on-investment (ROI) expected from BI tools and perform regular assessments of the actual ROI the company is deriving from BI.
  • BI tools can be complicated. Train company personnel in the use of these tools.
  • Hire a consultant for advice on the best BI tools to pick and the best way it can be deployed enterprise-wide.

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Top BI vendors and tools they offer 

The business intelligence (BI) tools market is bustling with vendors and products. The top BI tool vendors include IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, SAS Institute, and SAP. The one prominent Indian BI tool vendor is MAIA Intelligence.


Vendor BI tool
IBM IBM Cognos Series 10
MAIA Intelligence 1KEY Agile BI Suite
Microsoft Microsoft Integrated BI offering
Oracle Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition Plus
SAS Institute SAS Business Intelligence
SAP SAP Business Objects,
SAP NetWeaver BI

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Further reading 

Definition from What is business intelligence?

Tip: Five ways to justify BI investment to your CFO

Feature: BI ROI calculation: Issues and methodology

Tutorial: Business intelligence (BI) certification guide

News: 6 predictions for the hottest BI trends in 2011

News: Outlook for BI in the cloud

Tip:Implement an open source BI tool, head to toe

News: Indian BI market to grow by 16% in 2011 ― Gartner

News: Yahoo deploys open source BI tool made in India

Tip: Why does BI excel reporting tools?

Tip: Business criticality of BI tools

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