Business intelligence basics: Trends, case studies and job advice

Use this business intelligence basics guide to get an overview of BI basics, trends, case studies and jobs -- or to train new employees on BI fundamentals.

Business intelligence (BI) is about more than just technology. Experts say BI also requires a strategy for organizing people and processes -- as well as a clear vision of organizational goals, performance requirements, key performance indicators (KPIs) and more.

This business intelligence basics guide is a resource for professionals involved in all aspects of BI -- from building a business case to writing a request for proposal (RFP) for BI technology to designing executive dashboards. This guide covers BI basics, case studies, trends, job advice and more -- and can be useful in many ways, including getting a quick overview of the discipline and training new employees.

Business intelligence terms and acronyms

Business intelligence is a concept that spans many technologies, processes and concepts. To truly master the basics of BI, it's important to fully understand these related areas:

  • Business intelligence (BI)
    Business intelligence is a broad category of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing and providing access to data to help enterprise users make better business decisions. BI systems are often referred to as the successor to "decision support systems" and most often facilitate various kinds of enterprise reporting.
  • Corporate performance management (CPM)
    Corporate performance management, also referred to as enterprise performance management (EPM) or business performance management (BPM), refers to the processes and technology used to monitor and manage an organization's performance, often by tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) and other operational metrics.
  • Data warehouse
    A data warehouse is a central repository for a subset of data that an enterprise's various business systems collect. Historically, data warehouses were most often used as a central repository to integrate, cleanse and reconcile data used for BI and analysis.
  • Dashboard
    An executive dashboard is a user interface, usually Web-based and often with a BI system/data warehouse on the backend, that organizes and presents information in a way that is easy to read and interpret. Somewhat akin to an automobile's dashboard, executive dashboards often have graphical elements, such as color-coding, gauges and charts.
  • Scorecard
    A scorecard generally displays important organizational metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the purpose of monitoring and measuring an organization's actual performance against set goals or targets.
  • On-demand or Software-as-a-Service business intelligence
    On-demand or Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) business intelligence systems deliver BI capabilities on a hosted platform managed by the BI vendor, often saving space and staff. On-demand or SaaS-deployed BI is based on a multi-tenant architecture, as opposed to hosted, single tenant implementations.
  • Operational business intelligence
    Operational business intelligence is BI that is available enterprise-wide – to mid-level mangers and front-line operational workers. Ideally, operational BI delivers timely information to employees at all levels, so important metrics and other data are delivered in the context of associated business processes.
  • BI search
    BI search is a term used to describe a convergence between business intelligence and enterprise search. It is a way to provide business users better access to information by enabling natural language searches of BI systems, rather than requiring specific structured queries. BI search functions enable users to search BI systems for reports and information, similar to the way they search the Web.
  • Data mining
    Data mining uses advanced algorithms to analyze large amounts of data to identify patterns and establish relationships. Today, data mining often refers to processes used in complex data analysis projects.
  • Analytics
    Data analytics is the science of examining raw data, using sophisticated software and analytic algorithms, for the purpose of drawing conclusions about that information. Data analytics is often distinguished from data mining by the scope, purpose and focus of the analysis.
  • Text analytics
    Text analytics, also referred to as text mining, is the process of extracting insight, patterns and information from unstructured data (text documents, spreadsheets, emails, receipts, etc.).
  • Business activity monitoring (BAM)
    Business activity monitoring (BAM) refers to the ability to use technology to recognize significant business events and respond appropriately, based on a business rules. BAM helps companies recognize, respond and resolve events quickly, while understanding the impact on the business.
  • Complex event processing
    Complex event processing (CEP) is the use of technology to identify key events in business, automatically generating alerts and additional analysis. It is related to business activity monitoring, which often uses event processing to drive dashboards and issues alerts.
  • Data mart
    A data mart is a subject-specific repository of data gathered from operational data and other sources that is designed to serve a particular community of knowledge workers.
  • Online analytical processing (OLAP)
    OLAP is automated processing and analysis of data, defined by as "fast analysis of shared multidimensional information."

Business intelligence basics

A crucial step to building a successful BI system is having a strong foundation of basic BI knowledge. This section of the business intelligence basics guide covers many aspects of BI basics, from strategy to technology.

  • Business intelligence basics: Q&A with Howard Dresner
    The term "business intelligence" hasn't been around forever; Howard Dresner, a BI consultant and author, coined the term in 1992. sat down with Howard Dresner, the "father of BI" at a Gartner BI Summit in Chicago. Learn why Dresner says he invented the term, find out his take on the BI market and get his recommendations for achieving BI success.
  • Business intelligence and corporate performance management software: What's the difference?
    BI has become the term to describe the technology used to access, analyze and report on data relevant to an enterprise, according to Rick Sherman. It covers a wide range of software: ad-hoc query, reporting, on-line analytical processing (OLAP), dashboards, scorecards, search, visualization and more. "These software products started as stand-alone tools, but BI software vendors have incorporated them into their BI suites," says Sherman. "BI software is always part of an overall CPM solution." Learn more about the differences between BI and CPM -- and how they're related -- from an expert.

    Beyond business intelligence basics

    Learn more about BI case studies, trends, technology and strategy from's comprehensive business intelligence tutorial

    Listen to a podcast from's business intelligence podcast collection

Business intelligence jobs

The growing business intelligence market means plenty of career opportunities. Learn more with's BI job and career resources. Also, a BI job and career expert is available to answer your BI career questions -- basic or advanced.

  • Business intelligence jobs and certification FAQ
  • This FAQ tutorial is meant to inform IT and business professionals interested in beginning or enhancing a BI career. Get valuable advice from Jennifer Hay, Certification Program Manager for The Data Warehouse Institute (TDWI), about the BI job market, building a BI skill set and what a BI certification means for employees and employers. Use this tutorial as a blueprint for building or navigating your BI career.
  • How to get a business intelligence job
  • Increases in market spending and major vendor acquisitions indicate that organizations are very interested in BI on an enterprise level, according to Matt Mueller, president of CBIG Recruiting & Staffing. This means good news for current or aspiring BI professionals, says Mueller. In his article, get expert advice for landing a business intelligence job, learn how to create a compelling resume and get BI job search advice.
  • Business intelligence and data warehousing salaries continue to rise
  • Business intelligence and data warehousing salaries continued to rise in 2007, nearing an average of $100,000 annually, according to a recent report from TDWI. The average business intelligence/data warehousing salary rose 4% in 2007 to $98,418, up from $94,615 in 2006, the report said -- but some are getting the lion's share of that increase. Find out more and learn what experts predict for salaries in 2008.
  • Ways to begin a business intelligence career
  • Some experts may argue that certification and education are the best way to begin a BI career. Others may say that experience is more valuable. Get one expert's insight on this debate and get his advice about various ways to approach beginning a BI career. Also, find out what resources he recommends to get one step ahead.

Business intelligence trends

Both IT professionals and businesspeople are affected by changes and developments in the BI space. Fortunately, makes coverage of BI trends a priority. The articles and resources in this section of the business intelligence basics guide focus on BI software and market trends.

  • Business intelligence market trends and expert forecasts for 2008
  • The business intelligence market underwent some major changes in 2007: A slew of big-time acquisitions altered the vendor landscape dramatically; Microsoft claimed it was "changing the economics" of BI; and one city police department even used BI to fight crime. Here, five experts make sense of all the recent BI market action and predict what business intelligence trends 2008 holds so you can better plan for the New Year.
  • Market maturity and Microsoft lead Gartner's latest business intelligence report
  • A wave of consolidation and a major newcomer to the list of BI leaders mean good news for software buyers, according to Gartner's latest BI Magic Quadrant. The report also highlights a maturing BI market and Microsoft's new frontrunner status. Learn more about BI trends in the report, and what it all means for users.
  • Howard Dresner predicts the future of business intelligence
  • The BI market has undergone a drastic transformation over the last two years, the most notable trend in the form of consolidation. What was once a market of numerous small, independent pure-players is now one dominated by four so-called mega-vendors -- SAP, Oracle, IBM and Microsoft. However, this doesn't mean that the BI market has reached maturity, according to Howard Dresner. In this expert podcast, Dresner lends his take on BI market trends from the floor of the Gartner Business Intelligence Summit in Chicago.
  • Business intelligence, performance management spending to top $57 billion
  • Spending on BI and performance management technologies and services will exceed $57 billion in 2008, according to a recent survey by AMR Research. In 2007, spending was primarily on business-user-oriented software, according to John Hagerty, an AMR analyst and co-author of the report. Now, it's more focused on IT and infrastructure-related technologies. In this article, learn more about BI spending trends and who is affected.

Business intelligence case studies

Learning from other organizations' achievements and failures is a way to increase one's own chance of success. This section of the business intelligence basics guide features a variety of BI case studies in different industries.

Would your organization make a good case study? Whether you have a success story or a horror story, let us know.

  • Public sector business intelligence case study: Gartner lauds police for crime-fighting BI
    In this case study, learn how the Richmond, Va., police use an ever-expanding BI platform to reduce crime. Over several years, the department has worked to develop a near real-time system and will eventually have a four-hour data update cycle, enabling it to use the results of its analysis quickly to mitigate developing problems. The BI reports help the department identify crime patterns and deploy officers to potential areas of aggravation. The implementation recently won a Gartner BI Excellence Award.
  • Retail business intelligence case study: On-demand BI fits Casual Male
    In Casual Male's headquarterrs, there's no data warehouse, no sophisticated BI software and no IT team coding reports. Like many other organizations, this retail chain wanted a better way to plan inventory, understand customer buying behavior and track the results of catalog mailings -- but wasn't interested in the price and implementation requirements of traditional BI software. In this retail BI case study, find out what happened when Casual Male used hosted, on-demand BI to help improve margins and increase profits.
  • Healthcare business intelligence case study: Hospital BI helps healthcare
    Approximately eight years ago, Jefferson Medical Center purchased a WebFocus BI platform from New York-based BI vendor Information Builders Inc. The system has since grown from a simple reporting tool into an essential operational BI resource. In this healthcare BI case study, see how BI software at the hospital helps to improve productivity and patient care.
  • Sports and entertainment business intelligence case study: Analytics a slam-dunk for Celtics
    Daryl Morey, senior vice president of operations and information with the Boston Celtics, wanted a tool to visually analyze ticket-sale data in real time, which would enable the ticket sales team to quickly create promotions and the management team to conduct revenue analyses based on sales trends. Learn how the Boston Celtics now use data analytics to increase ticket sales and evaluate players in this case study. Better analytics ultimately means better basketball games, according to the team.

Business intelligence expert advice's Ask the Expert panel is a useful way to get business intelligence questions answered by an industry expert -- for free. Submit BI strategy or technology questions to an expert, or check out samples of BI questions below, submitted by other data management professionals.

  • Do you need managed reporting tools and BI tools?
    The distinction between managed reporting tools and BI tools may be emphasized by the vendor community more than it needs to be, according to an expert. Get expert advice about whether it's necessary to have both BI tools and managed reporting tools.
  • How to transition to real-time business intelligence and data warehousing
    One approach to switching to real-time BI is to make the data warehouse real-time, loading it in concert with operational structures and minimizing operational business intelligence, one expert advises. But that's not as easy as it sounds. Learn how real-time BI impacts a data warehouse and get expert advice for making the transition to real-time BI.
  • Ralph Kimball vs. Bill Inmon approaches to data warehouse design
    Most people have heard about the Kimball vs. Inmon debate -- but it's not always easy to choose a side. Get expert advice about what items to consider before choosing one of the two approaches to data warehouse design.
  • Data mining tools: Advantages and disadvantages of implementation
    Some data mining tools are too complex for the average user, which leaves users not wanting to work with the tools at all. However, some tools are designed specifically for average users and can therefore be very valuable to a business, according to an expert. Learn more about the disadvantages of data mining tools and of implementing data mining technology.

Business intelligence events

Industry events and conferences are another way to enhance one's BI knowledge.'s Industry Event and Conference Calendar provides dates and listings of upcoming BI and data management events.

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