In recent years the term “business intelligence” (BI) has generated increasing excitement in the business world, frequently being referred to at conferences, talks and by leading lights of the business community. Nonetheless, the term remains ambiguous and is understood differently by many of those involved. Business intelligence is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of activities around data collection, processing and analysis for businesses. The goal of business intelligence is to use data to create actionable insights that drive business decisions, improve products and ultimately increase profit.

Frequency of Term “Business Intelligence” in Print 1960 – 2008

The growing buzz for business intelligence has developed hand in hand with the ever increasing amounts of data being collected in every sector of the economy. Every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data, or 2.5 exabytes. To put that in perspective,  2.5 exabytes would fill 10 million blu-ray disks every day which – when stacked – would be 4 times as tall as the Eiffel Tower. Our soaring data production is so unprecedented that more than 90% of data ever collected was done in the last 2 years.

A recent EMC report reported that 37% of data would be useful if analyzed but only 1% of data is ever analyzed. Business intelligence empowers businesses to capitalize on this wealth of data. The tools that businesses use include those in any respectable data analyst’s toolkit along with some additional software. Some notable additions are cloud data platforms such as Google Cloud Platform and Amazon Web Services. Additionally, businesses use tools such as Power BI and other visualization software to effectively communicate the results of their analysis to the corporate leadership.

Most of the heavy lifting in business intelligence is done by “business analysts.” In the past the term business analyst referred to someone who would analyze the systems and processes in place at a business and suggest changes. The responsibilities of the business analyst role have begun to change recently however. While job descriptions vary, generally the role now requires a knowledge of a broad range of data tools, high-level knowledge of statistics, independence and the ability to clearly and effectively communicate data to drive decision-making. A quick search for business analyst jobs on Linkedin lists companies from Moody’s Analytics to Cole Haan and Mercer.

Competition in the industry between different software is rising with Amazon and IBM entering the BI space with their Quicksight and Watson Analytics services respectively. Microsoft also significantly enhanced its PowerBI program and Oracle and SAP have recently invested heavily in revamping their BI offerings.

Overall, business intelligence is an important and growing part of business in the 21st century. Businesses large and small are investing in the talent and the tools to stay on top of their data. Nonetheless, a skills gap remains with McKinsey reporting that by 2018 there will be a shortage of 190,000 people with deep analytical skills (data scientists) and an additional shortage of 1.5 million manager and analysts with the know-how to use analysis to drive decision-making. The career prospects for anyone entering the space are bright and only set to improve.


Opening graphic from Freepik