Business intelligence software analyzes data and provides users with “actionable” information that can help them make more informed decisions. At least, that’s the simple definition.

If you’ve done any research on the subject, you know that business intelligence also includes the processes of identifying and gathering data (both from external and internal sources), preparing data for analysis, querying data, and creating reports, visualizations, and dashboards that simplify interpretation.

There are several advantages and benefits that business intelligence (BI) can bring to your organization. It can help you gain more insights into your processes and performance, make better decisions about which products to introduce to the market, what to do with mature products, how to increase sales, and how to make employees more productive. Whatever your goal is, BI can help you approach it from a more informed perspective.

Of course, business intelligence software can’t operate without access to the necessary data sources and a big enough sample size to draw conclusions. The learning curve for some of these systems can also be fairly high. But businesses who do successfully implement BI will see significant improvement in their ability to analyze and act upon data. Here’s how:

1. Access to a Real-Time Snapshot of Processes and Performance

There are countless software tools on the market that provide analytical “snapshots” through dashboards and data visualization tools. These tools tend to focus on how your processes and performance match a stated goal.

For instance, users of the Oracle Business Intelligence Foundation Suite select business terms such as “gross revenue,” “region,” and “current month” to see, visualize, and compute data in terms they can understand. This manipulation of data can be easily shared with others or saved for later viewing. You can ask for data analysis and visualization whenever you need it and manipulate the data to gain clarity.

2. By Discovering New Data and Data Sources

You can use discovery tools to help identify sources and gather more data. Guided data discovery tools let you gather data from databases, spreadsheets, applications, and other sources. Bringing automation to the discovery process means you can concentrate more on analysis instead of tedious aggregation and sorting.

Discovery tools may even help you pull data from sources you have not considered before. For example, you may have included sales reports and lead generation programs as your data sources, but failed to consider site data, social media interactions, and other relevant sources. You can avoid this by using a data discovery tool and ensure that you have a more robust set of data to work with.

3. By Focusing on the Right Data Sets

Business intelligence software can help you filter out irrelevant and outdated information — basically, anything that won’t improve or inform your analysis.

For instance, if you want to find out how effective a marketing campaign is for a certain territory by looking at the sales results, you can use business intelligence platform to exclude data for other territories and even exclude sales figures from before the campaign launched. This will help you focus getting what you need without diluting or skewing the results because of sales figures from the wrong time period or the wrong territory.

4. By Improving Data Quality

There are times when line-of-business users (or even data scientists) aren’t sure what types of data are needed for analysis, especially if they’re running an ad-hoc report. In these scenarios, it’s easy to pull in data from multiple sources with less regard for quality and relevance.

You need a business intelligence tool that can make sure that your data is of the highest quality — no duplicates, no missing fields, no invalid entries. This is particularly important in B2B sales and marketing. An appropriate tool should be able to blend data from multiple sources and “prepare” that data to get the best analysis out of it.

Data analysis looks different for every industry and job function, but doing it correctly always requires the same things: data sources and the tools to combine them. Not only does a business intelligence tool help you source the best quality data from a variety of sources, it also helps you combine data and uncover trends/patterns that drive business growth. In the best cases, you’ll discover insights you wouldn’t otherwise think to search for.

(About the author: Michael Gabriel Sumastre is a writer for TechnologyAdvice with more than 11 years of industry experience. He has written more than a thousand articles related to tech and gadgets, cloud computing, IT management, big data, the Internet of Things, SEO, SEM and software solution.)

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