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Businesses in the digital age are often overwhelmed by the amount of data they collect – from internal processes and operations to external transactions – it becomes difficult to extract value from all the data. A business intelligence platform can help organisations take advantage of data and use it to make data-driven decisions.

The term “business intelligence” might make you think of complex data analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and mathematical algorithms that can seem confusing and even a little scary! But fear not; we’ll lay out the basics of how a business intelligence platform works to help you extract value from business data.


Achieving business intelligence involves the process of analysing historical and current data according to certain queries and visualising the results in easy-to-understand reports, charts, graphs, maps or dashboards that provide actionable insights about business performance. A business intelligence platform answers questions about business performance and what needs to change to resolve or address underperformance. This is often referred to as descriptive analytics because it describes what is happening in an organisation currently and compares it to what happened before.

A business intelligence platform incorporates tools to access and query data and visualise data in different formats. It can be integrated with other software like enterprise resource planning software or enterprise performance management software to extend analytical and visualisation capabilities.

Gartner defines Business Intelligence platforms as follows: “Business intelligence (BI) platforms enable enterprises to build BI applications by providing capabilities in three categories: analysis, such as online analytical processing (OLAP); information delivery, such as reports and dashboards; and platform integration, such as BI metadata management and a development environment.”

A few examples of business intelligence platforms include SAP BusinessObjects Business Intelligence, Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, Zoho Analytics, Datapine, and MicroStrategy, with many other platforms available too.


The best business intelligence platforms provide insight on how companies can increase profits, improve operations and optimise performance. According to SAP Insights on Business Intelligence, here are just a few of the many benefits of BI:

Data-driven decision-making: A BI platform helps executives, managers, and workers uncover performance insights pertaining to their roles, departments and areas of responsibility.

Gain and maintain competitive advantage: A BI platform used to assess capabilities, strengths and weaknesses as compared to competitors’ reveals opportunities and identifies areas that may need improvement.

Measure and track performance: BI platform dashboards that visualise data in easy-to-digest formats make it easy to monitor key performance indicators (KPIs), track progress against targets, and set alerts to know where and when to focus improvement initiatives.      

Identify and set benchmarks: BI platforms enable businesses to compare key metrics against industry standards to determine where improvement is needed and to set goals and benchmarks, and monitor progress towards reaching those goals. 

Identify issues so they can be resolved: With a BI platform, managers can detect potential problems such as supply chain bottlenecks, underperforming departments, rising costs or high customer churn before they cause significant financial harm.

Improve operational efficiency: Business intelligence platforms enable business users to spend more time focusing on daily operations while the job of data analysis and report generation is automated in the background.

Make data and reporting accessible to everyone: BI platforms offer user-friendly interfaces, drag-and-drop reports, and role-based dashboards that team members can use themselves – without the need for data science knowledge or other technical skills training.

Improve customer and employee experiences: A business intelligence platform makes it possible to identify patterns in customer and employee behaviour which informs managers on how to address issues and improve experience.

Increase revenue and profitability: With insight into finance trends and factors through a business intelligence platform, businesses are more equipped to respond to challenges timeously and identify opportunities that result in increased revenue and profits.


There are many different tools used as part of a business intelligence platform. Here are some of the most common:

Business Intelligence Reporting

A business intelligence reporting tool enables business users to display insights in easy-to-understand formats. Reports use summaries and visual elements like charts and graphs to show trends over time, relationships between variables, increasing and decreasing values, and much more. Interactive reports allow users to drill down deeper into data to find further insights where necessary. Monthly, weekly or even daily reporting can also be automated to reveal critical business insights at regular intervals for ongoing monitoring and performance management.

Business Intelligence Querying

The ability to ask specific questions about data sets is made possible through a business intelligence platform query interface. This can be as simple as typing a question into a search bar using natural language; for example “how many units were sold last month?”

Business Intelligence Dashboards

Dashboards are one of the most popular BI platform tools for data visualisation. They enable users to visualise data in charts, graphs, tables, and other formats to track pre-defined KPIs and other business metrics in real-time. This means that data is continuously updated for up-to-the-minute insights on what is happening across an organisation.

Data Preparation Tools

Business data comes from many different sources and in many different formats. A data preparation tool uses a process called extract, transform and load (ETL) to cleanse, categorise and store data in a data warehouse, ready for analyses. A business intelligence platform enables these processes to be automated.


A business intelligence platform can be used in any industry, organisation or business that has access to historical and current data that they want to analyse to inform and optimise business performance. Because a business intelligence platform provides access to data across an organisation, it can be used to optimise performance in all departments and areas of business.

Here are a few examples of BI use cases in different business areas:

  • Business intelligence for marketing: The marketing department can use a business intelligence platform to track campaign results, such as e-mail open rates, click-through rates, and landing page conversions, and use the insights to inform future campaigns.
  • Business intelligence for finance: The finance department can use a business intelligence platform to consolidate company-wide financial data to analyse cash flow, margins, expenses, revenue streams, and budget in real-time to make determinations on where the bottom line can be improved. 
  • Business Intelligence for HR: The human resources team can use a BI platform to monitor metrics such as time and attendance, productivity rates, employee turnover, and engagement. This data helps HR make better hiring decisions, improve employee experience, implement adequate training and development opportunities and address performance issues.


SAP BusinessObjects BI is an enterprise reporting and analytical business intelligence (BI) software solution. Comprising a variety of supporting applications that simplify the reporting and analytics process, business users are enabled to search for data, execute analytics and generate reports with ease, and without any data science skills. Using the simple drag-and-drop functionality, data from different sources can be integrated into one platform for a single source of truth.

A number of valuable reporting and analytics applications work with SAP BusinessObjects BI to help streamline these functions. Here are a few examples:

  • SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards: an application tool for data visualisation that allows users to develop customised dashboards using the reports. It includes gauges, interactive charts, and widgets.
  • Web Intelligence and Webi: this web-based browser is used for analytical and ad hoc reporting.
  • Crystal Reports: another powerful reporting and data analytics application that helps in the creation of dynamic reports.
  • SAP Lumira: an application tool that helps business users find data and develop customised dashboard and analytics applications.
  • SAP BO Explorer: similar to SAP Lumira, this application also enables users to find data from different sources and create data visualisations.
  • Query as a Web Service (QaaWS): A useful application for developing and publishing web services.

Find out more about business intelligence platforms and related software solutions from MDSap.