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What is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence (BI) is the process of using the power of people and technologies to collect and analyze data to be used by organizations in their strategic and daily decision-making processes.

Google Cloud's Looker is a business intelligence tool that offers a unified view of your company’s data.

Business intelligence overview

Typically, the business intelligence process involves gathering company data into a data warehouse or other repository and using a specially designed tool to analyze the data. For example, a company might look at customer online shopping habits, operational costs, or regional sales information. Another organization might compare business operations against benchmarking standards.

The tools that comprise a business intelligence solution fall into three categories:

On-premises: These run on your organization’s infrastructure and are commonly used with traditional data warehouses that are also running on-premises. They can, however, be less scalable than cloud solutions.

Open source: These tools are cost effective and, if they’re cloud based, can also save you money on infrastructure costs. However, open source tools still require a level of knowledge and hand coding to be able to use them effectively. 

Cloud-based: Cloud-based business intelligence tools are especially good at handling streaming data and large volumes of data. They can also be cost effective, because the infrastructure and expertise required to maintain the environment are handled by the cloud vendor.

What are the benefits of business intelligence?

Use data to better understand business performance

The role of business intelligence is to improve a company’s overall performance and trajectory. A modern business intelligence tool can help organizations understand what happened, why it happened, and what needs to happen to optimize their operations better.

Take actionable steps in response to key performance indicators

Using business intelligence, companies have the ability to continually analyze data and create actionable takeaways that affect short-term and long-term performance. Analyzed data can uncover important patterns and trends in nearly every area of the enterprise, including sales, customer service, production, security, and more.

Find opportunities for new business lines

When companies use business intelligence to inform their decisions on every level, they can adapt quickly to the changing business landscape. Business intelligence helps define new product lines, find new customers through targeted marketing plans, and optimizes sales channels.

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Why is business intelligence important?

Companies with the goal of increasing their efficiency in making fact-based decisions understand the importance of business intelligence. It uncovers important patterns and trends within business data, delivering a deep view of organizational processes, consumer behavior, and internal productivity. That insight is vital to optimizing decision-making and performance.

The quality and location of data and skills required to use BI tools effectively are factors in helping customers address these key challenges:

  • Data quality: Having quality data is critical to achieving good business analytics. Bad data results in bad business intelligence. Data quality is a challenge for two primary reasons. One, data is outdated, which occurs easily in a large, complex organization. Two, companies aren’t taking the time to practice good data hygiene. To maintain quality data, companies need to take steps to clean and normalize the data regularly.
  • Critical data buried in different systems: When data is in different systems and inaccessible to other systems, because the software may not be compatible or the business unit tightly controls user permissions, it’s called siloed data. The problem with this is that when critical data is siloed, it’s locked away and you only get a partial picture of your overall data, so your business intelligence is incomplete. Working with a good ETL tool (extract, transform, load) can help you bring data from different systems together to make it available for analysis.
  • Lack of expertise: Using business intelligence tools requires significant expertise. This means that only a few key people in your organization have the skills to use the business intelligence tools effectively, which in turn can create a bottleneck.

How do companies use business intelligence?

Companies across industries use business intelligence for the following:


Providing regular summary data to key decision-makers to support their ability to set business strategy and direction.

Data visualization

Presenting information visually in a way that aids the rapid understanding of complex information.

Predictive analytics

Analyzing historical data to predict future patterns using statistical techniques like data mining, machine learning, and predictive modeling.

Data mining

Searching through large datasets to find useful patterns or trends.

Complex event processing

Analyzing streaming, real-time data from sources such as stock-market feeds, traffic reports, or electrical grids with sensors.

Business performance management

Analyzing and measuring performance goals, such as operational excellence goals defined by online shopping and customer satisfaction.

A comprehensive suite of data analytics tools centered around BigQuery and Looker that’s designed to take full advantage of the scalability, efficiency, and security of Google Cloud. A business intelligence solution on Google Cloud helps your organization take advantage of all your data to support day-to-day decision-making, integrate insights into business workflows, or build custom data-driven applications.