The search for business intelligence

Business intelligence is one of the top technology priorities for companies today. Here are five trends smart IT leaders are examining to get insight from their organisation's avalanches of data.

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Business intelligence refers to the broad classification of applications and technology tools designed to collect, store and analyse raw business data, which can then be used to guide business decisions.

Business intelligence has guided restaurants on which burgers to add, helped retailers determine which customers to target for upselling and guided sports teams to victory. But the business intelligence arena is changing and its reach is growing. BI is becoming increasingly important to businesses as they try to turn data into information.

To whit, Gartner found it to be the number one technology priority for 2007.

"Business intelligence is permeating into all nooks and crannies of the business," says John Hagerty, an analyst at AMR Research. Whereas business intelligence was largely confined to finance and human resource, the increased offerings and developments mean additional uses. "The number of users BI can touch grows phenomenally," he says. Increasingly, there will be "more insight into more stuff for more people."

Here are five key business intelligence trends that are having an impact.

Business Intelligence Trend No. 1: There's so much data, but too little insight.

Here's one big reason business intelligence is on companies' radars: the volume and velocity of information. More data translates to a greater need to manage it and make it actionable. "Everything we use and everything we buy is becoming an information source and companies must be able to figure out how to harness that," says Bill Hostmann, a Gartner research analyst.

The problem? "Organisations are recognising they don't have the information they need to manage the business," says Hostmann. The data is there, but it's trapped in different silos and its accuracy can't be trusted. For example, how information is entered can vary widely from how it needs to be used to make organisational decisions and, all too often, definitions vary from silo to silo. For example, finance and marketing could define gross margin differently, which influences how and what numbers are reported.

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