The term “business intelligence” was first used in 1856 by Richard Devens in “Cyclopaedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes” where he described how the banker Henry Furnese profited from gathering information and acting on it before the competition.

In 1958, Hans Peter Luhn, a computer scientist at IBM, described the advantages of using business intelligence tools with the support of technology.

Today Business intelligence (BI) is about delivering relevant and reliable information, to the right people, at the right time with the goal of reaching better decisions faster. In 2018, Linkedin listed BI in the top 25 most valued skills by employers.

Business Intelligence is a complex domain that encompasses performance management, analytics, predictive modelling, data and text mining and many more.  

BI requires methods and programs to collect and structure data, to convert it into information which can be used to improve business decisions. BI tools enable users to navigate the data on their own and get what they need without relying on others. Users no longer have to go through complex spreadsheets, to analyse the data manually, to mash together reports. Instead, employees can use BI systems to request the information they need.

Having any time access to data means that users can identify inefficient business processes as well as areas of strength and weakness. It can also support the company is discovering new business opportunities. All of which contribute to a better understanding of customers and the business in general.

In Retail, for example, companies offer loyalty cards to customers to be used in both physical and online shops. Data gathered from the loyalty cards gives considerable insight into the business: who are the clients, how often they buy, do they prefer to buy online or offline, what products they prefer and so on. This valuable information can be used to predict what individual customers need, what are their preferences and habits, it helps discover opportunities to sell, deliver better service, and how to craft effective marketing campaigns. In short, through the use of business intelligence tools businesses can understand their customers better based on past transactions and behaviour.

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It's important to have a structured selection process in place when choosing business intelligence solutions. The first thing business owners have to understand is what features they need. Most BI tools offer data consolidation, visualisation and archiving. Some BI tools provide dashboard customization, encryption options for securing data and the possibility to share the reports on other platforms. The second thing to take into consideration when choosing a BI tool is who will use it.  With salespeople, IT experts and marketing professionals you can choose developer-friendly platforms that use coding for customisation. This gives you more control over the data and how it’s presented. If your team is not confident with coding, go for no-code interfaces, drag and drop navigation to make sure your employees can make the most out of the BI tools.

The last thing to take into consideration is to determine how adaptable you need the BI to be. If you want to personalise the dashboards, the reports, you should be able to choose from different kinds of visualisations and setups. The same goes for the system configuration. If the business plans to expand in the next years, choose a BI with upgradable storage space equipped with API capabilities. This will guarantee that you’ll be able to accommodate all the data and, if needed, you’ll always be able to scale up or down.

In conclusion, Business intelligence is a group of tools and techniques that collects and organises data and presents it in a way that is efficient and makes sense.  If you want to have fast access to accurate, understandable and actionable information on demand, business intelligence might be the right thing for your organisation.