The Wikipedia definition of Business Intelligence is a good baseline:
Business intelligence (“BI”) comprises the strategies and technologies used by enterprises for the data analysis and management of business information.Wikipedia
Power BI is a subset of business intelligence – it is a collection of Microsoft technologies that companies use as part of their business intelligence strategy.
Using data to understand business results and make changes.
A technology you can leverage to expedite understanding business results and making decisions.
Another technology you can use to understand business results and make decisions. However, there is high overhead, low frequency, and error prone results related to spreadsheets and other manual reporting processes.
Humans do constant analysis based on intuition. It’s as if we have a “Gut Dashboard”. Making data-driven decisions is a counter-intuitive process.
Improving Business Intelligence
You already do “business intelligence.” Every business does. You have a strategy and deploy technology.
Life can be simpler with better strategies and superior technology.
Business Process Improvement
The point of developing reports is to review data, make changes, and improve future results. You can’t write a bunch of reports, sit back, and wait for change. Change management is an engaged, ongoing process.
There are levels of improvement. At the beginning, improvement may involve keeping source data clean, so reports are accurate. Advanced business intelligence involves making predictions and measuring the accuracy of the predictions.
Communication and Collaboration
Managers can look at high level numbers and spot problems. It’s natural to want to then understand the details. However, employees executing the details view the same problem with a completely different lens. BI technology provides different, relevant views of the same information.
Building something that works at all levels means first understanding and accumulating the details. Then, detailed information is summarized into metrics and dashboards.
Consistent Numbers (“Single Source of Truth”)
When humans discuss problems, it’s critical everyone is looking at the same evidence. Otherwise, there are arguments about numbers instead of problem solving.
When employees don’t have a central calculation, everyone has their own idea of the “right” one. The process of building BI includes defining and documenting consistent calculations.
Power BI Reports
Below is an example of a Power BI report. In Power BI, you can display charts, graphs, tables, pivots, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and more. The Power BI report designer looks like PowerPoint – you start with a blank canvas and organize multiple visuals.
Power BI Reports can also be written in Excel or with a paginated Report Builder (SSRS).
Power BI Reports are deployed to Power BI.com, which is where they are typically accessed. Reports can also be embedded in other applications including Teams, SharePoint, PowerPoint, Power Apps, and Dynamics 365.
Power BI Data Models
Reports are the sizzle. Data Models are the steak.
Data Models comprise data, transformations, relationships, calculations, and security for an area of the business. Commonly deployed data models include Sales, Finance, Inventory, Projects, Human Resources, and Purchasing.
A Data Model allows joining and transforming multiple source tables. For example, a report for Customer invoices requires the invoice header, invoice line, customer, customer group, and item tables. In Power BI, we’d transform these source tables into Invoice Amounts (lines joined with header), Customers, and Items.
In tools like Excel, there are flat tables of data stored locally in the file. With Power BI, the Data Model is published on PowerBI.com. Many reports point to a single Data Model.
Data gets frequently refreshed from the source on a schedule or on demand. Users don’t have to manually compile the data.
If you are new to Power BI, we recommend our fixed price project to get started. We author a data model and a handful of reports using your production data. We publish everything to PowerBI.com so you get the full experience. This project helps you review the technology in the context of data you already understand.
Business Intelligence needs ongoing attention. Once the data models are in place, you will want reports. Once the reports are in place, you will want to change business processes. Once business processes are improved, you will want new data models and reports.
Cooptimize offers Continuous Improvement Packages so we can help you at every step.
This article intentionally oversimplifies multiple technical aspects of building a business intelligence solution. It is a conceptual overview of the key components. Part of Cooptimize’s continuous engagement is knowing when it’s helpful to introduce additional concepts.