business intelligence

Business intelligence reporting: From data to decisions

Business intelligence is a crucial part of decision-making. Companies that utilize data in their decision making processes are leading their industries, increasing customer satisfaction, and seeing greater revenue growth than their lagging peers. 

Creating this kind of data-driven organization requires that users from across the business have access to accurate and up-to-date information, backed by data. Achieving this requires powerful reporting capabilities that allow you to quickly analyze both internal and external data points, and more importantly, use that analysis to make decisions and take action. In this article, we will break down everything you need to know about business intelligence reporting.

What is business intelligence reporting?

Business intelligence (BI) reporting is a BI tool that analyzes data to identify trends and find hidden insights to help businesses make data-driven decisions.

BI reporting synthesizes data from various sources, such as customer databases, financial information systems, market research, and more, to generate insights that can help shape a business’s strategies and operations. Depending on your company’s data architecture, these BI reports often leverage data in a cloud data platform such as a cloud data warehouse or data lakehouse. Modern BI tools don’t just work with these cloud platforms; they query the data directly, without requiring any data caching or movement. And by using sophisticated algorithms and technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), the reports generated by cutting-edge BI reporting systems provide up-to-date, relevant information, even if a user didn’t specifically know to look for it.

The importance of business intelligence reporting in decision-making

The value of business intelligence reporting lies in its ability to provide an in-depth understanding of a company’s performance and operations that can be acted upon. In traditional, more legacy analytics practices, business intelligence reports are prepared in advance by highly technical teams for executives. By providing accurate and timely insights into trends, customer preferences, market conditions, and more, BI reporting helps executives make smarter decisions that can improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of their business. In addition to helping with decision-making, BI reporting also helps businesses identify new opportunities for growth and improvement.

In today’s world, however, many companies have adopted an entirely new business intelligence strategy, where users of all skills can engage with data. As part of these efforts, they’ve implemented ad hoc analysis and reporting to scale the impact of their data. These kinds of tools allow business users to ask and answer questions on their own as the need arises, turn those questions into interactive data visualizations and reports, and share these instantly with others in their organization.  

An interactive data visualization showing a line graph of the total forecasted quantity and total forecasted sales. In the this line graph there is a drill down feature showing a search bar above product name, channel, region, product type, city, state, and store.

These tools are made even more powerful with the help of advanced technologies like AI. Companies are able to generate more accurate and detailed reports that offer a more comprehensive view of their operations, with the system’s intelligence automatically identifying trends, patterns, and anomalies that users should investigate as they build their BI report. This allows them to make more informed decisions and maximize the gains from their investments, minimize risk, and capture opportunities they may not have even known existed. 

Types of business intelligence reports

Business intelligence reporting can be divided into four main categories: 

Descriptive reports

Descriptive reports provide an overview of past performance and current trends. They often include data points such as customer demographics, sales volume, cost analysis, and market share. Descriptive reports are beneficial for tracking long-term performance or identifying changes in customer behavior over time.

A descriptive report that shows how business intelligence reporting works.

Diagnostic reports

Diagnostic reports provide insight into why specific outcomes occurred. These reports can be used to pinpoint rifts in the customer journey, identify potential risk areas, or isolate root causes of issues. Diagnostic reports also allow businesses to apply corrective measures and improve performance.

A diagnostic business intelligence reporting example.

Predictive reports

Predictive reports provide an outlook on future performance. They use historical data to make forecasts and predictions about products, services, and customer behaviors. Predictive reports are essential for planning and budgeting purposes.

Prescriptive reports

Prescriptive reports suggest a course of action for optimal results. They provide deep insights into customer needs and offer recommendations on how to best meet those needs. With prescriptive reports, businesses can anticipate demands and adjust strategies accordingly.

3 components of business intelligence reporting tools

Business intelligence software

Business intelligence is the most common tool used to generate BI reports. This type of software uses data from various sources to generate insights and identify trends that can help inform decisions. These BI tools can be flexible and modern, born to handle cloud scale data, or more legacy solutions that allow users to download bytesized pieces of data for analysis. While most modern data professionals prefer the former, there are still users who leverage desktop first BI tools. 

Data visualization tools

Data visualization tools can help make BI reports more understandable . These tools take complex data sets and transform them into graphical representations that provide a clearer picture of the underlying information. The most valuable of these tools make the visualizations interactive, so you can drill into the underlying data as the report is built.

Data stack

Every BI report requires leveraging a company’s data stack, which includes data storage, governance, security, ingestion, and analytics. Companies leading with data today have adopted the modern data stack, which often includes cloud data platforms such as Snowflake, Databricks, Google BigQuery, Amazon Redshift, and Azure Synapse, ETL or ELT tools like Fivetran and Matillion, data catalogs, and more By using these best of breed tools in concert with the right analytics experience, companies can empower their entire organization to quickly generate, understand, and act upon powerful BI reports.

The process of creating a business intelligence report

Creating a business intelligence report involves several steps: 

Gathering and cleaning data

The first step in creating a BI report is gathering and cleaning the data. This involves collecting data from various sources, such as databases, spreadsheets, web services, SaaS applications, mobile devices, third party data markets, and more. The data must also be checked for accuracy and formatted properly before it can be used in the report.

Analyzing and interpreting data

Once the data is gathered, it must be analyzed and interpreted in order to draw meaningful insights. This process involves looking for patterns and trends within the data and then interpreting them to understand their implications. This can be done by data analysts, or for organizations that have adopted true self service analytics, by anyone in the company.

Creating the report

Once the data has been analyzed, it is time to create the actual report. This involves combining the insights from the analysis with visuals, such as graphs and charts, to present a clear picture of the data. There are many benefits to data visualization in reports, but it is important to choose the right visuals and formatting to ensure that the report is easy to understand.

Distributing and sharing the report

Once the report is complete, it must be distributed and shared with those who need access to it. This can be done through email, Slack, Google Sheets, and Microsoft Teams, as a PDF, or in slides.

Best practices for business intelligence reporting

To ensure the most effective use of business intelligence reporting, organizations should adopt the following best practices when creating and using reports.

Setting clear KPIs and metrics

Before creating a report, it is important to set clear objectives and KPIs so that the report can be tailored to meet those goals. This will help ensure that the data included in the report is relevant and helps provide useful insights.

Using the right visualization techniques

Choosing the right data visualizations is critical for creating a successful BI report. Using visuals that are easy to understand, such as graphs and charts, will help readers quickly identify insights from the data.

Ensuring data reliability

It is essential to ensure that the data used for a BI report is accurate. This means double-checking the data reliability and making sure it matches the source from which it was collected.

Regularly reviewing and updating the report

To ensure that the insights in a BI report remain relevant, organizations should regularly review and update their reports. This will help keep the report up-to-date and ensure that the data included is still accurate.

By following these best practices, businesses can create effective business intelligence reports that provide meaningful insights to help inform their decisions.

Challenges and considerations

Creating and using business intelligence reports is not without its challenges. Organizations must consider the following when working with BI reports:

Data security and privacy

The data used in a BI report should always be kept secure and confidential, which is why data governance is a critical element of success with BI. Companies should use encrypted methods to store their data, as well as other security measures to protect it from unauthorized access.

Managing large and complex data sets

BI reports often involve working with large and complex datasets. This requires organizations to have the right technology in place for data management.

Keeping up with new technologies

With so many new technologies emerging, it can be difficult to keep up with all the changes that affect BI reporting. Companies must stay up-to-date on the latest developments in order to ensure that their reports remain accurate and effective.

Make better decisions for your business

Business intelligence reporting provides  insights that can help you make better decisions for your business. The most valuable democratize this value, empowering all kinds of users to tap into the value of business intelligence. 

If your organization could benefit by improving access to data, ThoughtSpot offers a free trial so you can explore the capabilities of data analytics and see how it can benefit your business. With business intelligence reporting, you can learn about your customers, what they want, and how to better serve them. This information is invaluable in today’s competitive marketplace. So don’t wait – sign up for a ThoughtSpot free trial today and start unlocking the power of data for your business.