We live in a time where data is simply flying around. It is in everything we do, part of our way of life. We follow sports and we love the statistics that surround them. We go to the movies and we make comparisons on which one sold more tickets or had the highest ranking cast to judge success. We live our lives in that sense of understanding reasons and numbers. If we take a road trip, we want to know how many miles we intend to travel. We make projections and predictions on length of time to arrive, times we will stop for gas, where we anticipate we will be to stop for the night if it is a lengthy drive. All those different decisions are part of what we do.

All this is part of business intelligence (BI). The problem with BI is that it has been made only a business-related topic, not a personal one, and it has been defined as extremely complex. And while there is some truth to that and it can be complex, it can also be personal and simple.

Business intelligence is often presented as something you would display in a graphical manner. And to many executives, that makes perfect sense: the graphical manner in which data has been transformed into actionable information. I call that “visualization,” a way of presenting information in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. But, the reality is that graphs are not the only items in BI. There are different pieces that move and work together in this process.

And it is just that, a process! BI is not a one-time operation and, all of a sudden, we know everything we need to know and we are done. It is a process, one that will transform data to information, and help us present that information into something that supports the effective decision making our executives rely on. There are different styles and ways to process this data. There are two areas that are involved in this as well: the technical area and the business area.

The technical side looks at how data is maintained and how to clean it up and prepare it for processing by the business area. The business area defines the process and consumes the end product. The important concept to understand here is the fact that one without the other will not present a complete solution. Unprocessed data without a consumable form is not useful, it is only stored. Visualization without factual data to support the information presented has no lineage. It has to be a perfect balance. And this also enters into aspects of identifying the quality of data being presented. BI has its complexities and very well-defined ways of working, but it can be applied in so many ways. It allows us to understand the performance of the information we consume.

For example, the batting average for my favorite player can also define my son’s batting average. In the movie Moneyball, BI is at the center of what they project and understand for players and their prospective performances. It is a science of data mining, process mining, event processing, performance management, benchmarking, and predictive and prescriptive analysis. I also like to make references to the movie Back to the Future. Why? It is a matter of understanding where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. That, in its simplest form, is the definition of BI.