Business Intelligence For Beginners – Business intelligence (BI) reporting would require extensive data modeling and deep knowledge of SQL to gain insights. Fortunately today’s BI reporting is much simpler.
Business intelligence reporting is the act of visualizing your data in the form of reports and dashboards to make better decisions. Ten years ago, going down this path was a scary prospect. But with today’s technology, you can break down the BI reporting process into simple steps.
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If you’re starting from scratch, there are eight steps to modern BI reporting that you need to go through. If you already have a BI platform, you can skip down to step #/4. Everyone else: get your pen and notebook ready.
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As your business grows and/or moves to the cloud, there are four maturity levels that your data will go through. Understanding where you stand will help you understand how to address your unique needs when it comes to BI reporting.
We have written an entire book about this growing process, which we have written to be comprehensive and accessible. We’ll do a quick summary here to get you up to speed.
The data source level is when your data is spread across multiple specific sources, such as Google Analytics, Salesforce, and a couple of personal databases. At this point, when it comes to BI reporting, most of the work is to be done by integrating your various data sources. You have to do analyzes in silos (eg Salesforce alone) with no easy way to integrate that data with other data other than dumping it into Google Sheets, which can turn into its own silo.
The data lake stage is when you first begin to combine data from all sources (ie, aggregate data) into a central location, usually in an unstructured way. To create a BI report at the lake level, you need to make preliminary changes, such as column selection or deleting personally identifiable information, to ensure that all of your data works together.
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The data warehouse phase is when you design your central database so that it can be easily used throughout your organization. BI reporting at the warehouse level is a breeze (with the right BI process, which we’ll get into later), and most of your work will be querying and visualizing data.
The data marketing phase is when teams across your organization need specific access to specific parts of your structured data. Data-level BI reporting is also easy but the focus should be on empowering non-technical users to create reports or dashboards on their own.
There are many things we are going to highlight here. The key is to identify the stage your business is currently in and use that knowledge to help you choose the right BI reporting platform.
A good BI environment fulfills three roles, each of which helps you move through the four stages of cloud data maturity. Choose your BI platform based on how well it:
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Whether it’s multiple stores, a lake or a warehouse, your BI platform should be able to access all the data you need. The ability to consolidate all your data is especially useful for tier 1 businesses, where your data is spread across two different devices. Make sure your BI platform allows you to mix your data (for example, all of it) and put it into a unified database.
Your BI tool should have the ability to query your data using SQL. The easier a BI platform makes it to work with SQL, the better. Easy-to-use quizzes, such as visual quizzes, are especially useful for businesses in levels 2-4. Businesses have a more sophisticated data infrastructure and want more of their employees to take advantage of it. Yes, we’re biased, but a great example of a BI platform that makes it easy to understand your data is Visual SQL, which we’ll get into a little later.
Finally, your BI platform should have an easy way to turn your data queries into reports and dashboards that you can then share and use for decision making. The ability to visualize data to help you make better decisions is a core function of any BI platform and helps businesses at all levels of cloud data maturity.
Again, we are just going through the basics. We’ve written a lot about how to choose a BI platform; What is covered here are the main functions of BI tools that affect your BI reporting process.
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BI reporting consists of two types of visualizations: reports and dashboards. There are some important differences between the two, and you need to understand this difference to make the right type of report.
Reports are static and use historical data to predict the future. The purpose of the report is to provide an analysis of past events to inform project decisions and changes. Because of this broad nature, reports tend to be more active and generated at regular intervals, such as weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.
Dashboards are real-time and often interactive, with a focus on real-time decision making. The purpose of the dashboard is to provide a pulse check of how certain metrics are performing. There is often a start time at the right table but be aware that they are getting there, with the occasional tear here and there.
For the purposes of this article, the term “business intelligence reporting” will describe the process of creating both reports and dashboards because both visualize data to provide information to decisions. As we move to step #5, knowing this difference will help you get there
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Once you’ve chosen and set up a BI platform, it’s time to connect your data. There are two general ways to connect your data to your BI platform:
BI systems have a dedicated interface that does most of the work for you. All you need to do is provide login details and possibly a unique key for each data source. A good starting point for the quality of a BI platform is its connection library: the more, the better.
For everything else, developers can set up an SSH tunnel to securely connect your data store/lake/warehouse to your BI platform. This multi-technology option is ideal for businesses that have their own contact database or have firewall considerations to take into account.
For your BI report. BI insights must support decisions. Determine your audience based on your answers to these questions:
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You might want to slap on a quick ad hoc video to illustrate an idea. Or maybe you need to put some “oomph” behind a comprehensive report you’ve been planning for weeks. However, a clear goal behind your vision will keep you on track and prevent your work from ballooning.
Busy business leaders have a lot on their plates and may just need an executive summary. On the other hand, individual participants may want to explore and dive deeper. Or vice versa. It all depends on who your audience is, so make sure you tailor every aspect of your BI report to their needs.
In other words, what decision is your audience making that needs more supporting information? Think about how they will use this data and when they will use it. They may need a static, one-time report. Or maybe they need a real-time dashboard that they can check throughout the day. Keep this purpose front and center in mind when creating your videos.
Next, it’s time to pull in the data you need using queries. The information you use should be determined by your goals and audience.
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You write queries in SQL, a programming language designed to integrate databases and data sources. In the query select the different data you would like to compare and let you join the comparison easily. For example, you can pull marketing credentials from one source, such as HubSpot, and compare ad spend on Facebook.
SQL is the only way to query data, so it’s worth learning. That said, many BI platforms have special ways of working with SQL to make it easier for non-technical people to use. For example, we created Visual SQL, which allows anyone to build queries without the need for SQL knowledge. Here’s a quick look at how it works:
If you don’t know SQL and want to learn, we’ve written a book about that too. You can learn SQL at the Database School from industry experts and professors at Columbia.
Now comes the fun part: creating records. In , when you query your data (which we call “Pipe”), your results appear in the table below (which we call “Results Table”). At the top right is the “Pull View Chart,” where you can choose your view.
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Compiling your images is as simple as working with the Results Table as you would a spreadsheet, then manipulating the automatically generated tables in it the Chart Preview. When you’re done creating your card, all you have to do is click the big blue button