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What is Business Intelligence|Concept and the most popular Business Intelligence tools

Updated on June 28, 2013

What is Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence in simple words,is a technique of collecting raw data stored in huge databases ,converting it and presenting it in an interactive format where one can easily analyse this data to make important business decisions.Let me illustrate this with a simple example.

Let us consider a well established business firm that exports their products worldwide.The business went smoothly for years,but suddenly they notice a drastic change in their financial statements.Now,to tackle this situation,they decide to make a detailed analysis covering all areas of business over the past years.A few points that the analysis should include are:

  • The countries/areas where the business is high/low.
  • The products sold above a particular % during a particular year/month.
  • The % of products sold in a particular country.
  • The income graph over a period range and so on.

But unfortunately,the diverse datasources are spread over different areas in different formats and the complicated queries make this task a tough one.And moreover,we need a application that is interactive and flexible unlike the complicated reports that displeases the viewer.

Here comes the role of Business Intelligence.A BI tool can be used to develop a visually impressive application using the company data that helps a user to analyse the business performance,gain insights and take better decisions.

Lets have a look at the basic components of Business Intelligence.

Basic Components of Business Intelligence

The basic components of Business Intelligence are:
1)Gathering data
This phase is concerned with collecting the required data from different sources.The business related data may reside in different datasources and in different formats.For example the sales details should be collected from the Sales and Distribution system and the finance data from the Financial system.Morover we cannot expect these data to be in the same format.It can be in different databases.

2)Storing data
In this phase,the collected data is stored in the most appropriate manner for better analysis.This includes removing unnecessary or duplicate data and transforming it based on the analysis requirement.

3) Analysis
The transformed data is now analysed with the help of data visualisation techniques like charts,graphs,lists etc all which can be designed with the help of a Business Intelligence tool.

4)Providing access
In order to make proper decisions,the business management need to access the BI application and perform analysis.So in this phase,the users are provided access to the BI application where they can view the data in a visually incredible layout and make fact based decisions for the company growth.

Usually,the data is presented focussing on mainly 3 kinds of users:

Dashboard Users:There are the users who would just have a quick glance on the business trends.Probably in a BI application,there would be a dashboard section which will usually include graphs and other pictorial representations that will give the users a quick insight on the data.
Analysts:These are the users who really need to dig into the data and get more detailed analysis of the business trend.For such users,the BI application would include a more extensive data view with detailed charts,drill down options,filtering options,search option etc.
Report Users:These are the users who would like to view only the reports.So for such users,the layout will include tables showing detailed reports.

The most popular Business Intelligence tools

Here are some commonly used Business Intelligence tools.
IBM Cognos

The IBM Cognos as the name specifies is a BI tool developed by IBM.The latest version IBM Cognos 10 was released on November 2010.The main features are :

  • Integration with microsoft products.
  • Professional reports aimed at business users with intergarted search capabilities.
  • Ability to access the reports on all kinds of mobile devices like Windows mobile,Symbian,Nokia,iPhone and Blackberry.
  • Ability to visualize data in the form of descriptive statistics,histograms and box plots.
  • Scorecarding capability which helps to compare the performance with strategic goals.
  • Collaboration capabilities like forming communities and social networking capabilities so that users can share insights.

And the best thing is that you can choose your product from the IBM Cognos family that fits your business needs depending on the size of your company .The IBM Cognos family has 3 products-Cognos Insight,Cognos Express and Cognos Enterprise.


According to Gartner, a leading industry analyst firm,Qlikview is positioned among the leaders in BI. With strong delivery of business benefits,Qlikview is today's fastest growing BI tool.Some of its best features are given below:

  • Associative user experience that allows users to choose their own route for analysis.
  • Qlikview uses an in-memory data model that stores data in RAM instead of disk.As RAM is much faster than disk,Qlikview offers faster response.
  • Variety of Dashboard,Report and Analysis objects with great visual view allowing users to just click and view the data.
  • Fastest implementation time which is much better compared to other BI tools.
  • Ability to access online on ipad and other mobile devices.
  • Comparable to other BI tools,Qlikview requires minimum training to acquire proficiency.

SAP Business Objects

SAP Business objects is one of today's leading BI softwares and has been a part of SAP AG since 2007.Some of its features are:

  • In-memory capabilities making analysis faster.
  • SAP Business analytics solutions for better decision making.
  • Ability to access online with iPad and Android.
  • Allows unlimited web users.


According to Forrester Research Inc., an independent technology and market research company,SAS is positioned as the leader in Predictive Analysis.The best features are:

  • Provides limitless data insight that enables the users to understand the past and predict outcomes for the future.
  • It has advanced analytics which is mostly opted for Banking and Insurance environments.
  • Portal and Customizable dashboards.
  • Integration with Microsoft Office and Sharepoint.
  • Ability to access on mobile devices.

Microsoft BI Stack

The Microsoft Business Intelligence stack is one of the most popular and widely depolyed BI.Microsoft provides different BI tools that will work the best with your situation-Personal BI,Team BI and Corporate BI.
A few of the features are:

  • Rich dashboards and scorecards with advanced analytics and interactive visualisation.
  • Mobile access like most other BI tools.
  • Extensive reporting capabilities with PowerView for end-users and SQL Server reporting services for developers.


MicroStrategy which was founded in 1989 and headquarted in Washington D.C ,is an independent vendor in BI software.Features include:

  • Interactive dashboards,highly formatted summary level reporting,and automated report distribution.
  • End users are given more self-service capabilities and is easy to maintain.
  • Automatic drill down to multiple datasources with less hardcoding.
  • Provides a software developer kit (SDK) to customize the application and integrate with other applications.

List of other BI tools

  • SAP Netweaver BI
  • Tableau
  • MSBI
  • Style Intelligence
  • Jaspersoft
  • Pentaho BI
  • BizzScore EFM Software
  • Board Intelligence Toolkit
  • Hyperion System 9


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    • ansonabey profile image

      ansonabey 3 years ago from Bangalore, India

      Nice hub. :)

    • OBIEE Training profile image

      technosmentors 3 years ago from India

      OBIEE Training Online is Online Training Experts with aim to provide a Job Oriented Training on major Information Technology modules.

    • jabelufiroz profile image

      Firoz 4 years ago from India

      Impressive hub on Business Intelligence. Voted up.