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Intro to Business Intelligence

by Team Nuggets
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Published on October 20, 2023

What is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence is the transformation of raw data into meaningful and useful insights. But business intelligence (BI) isn't just one thing – it's a broad and diverse field of tools, technologies, processes, strategies, and, most importantly: people. As a career, BI is full of people who come up with clever solutions to novel problems.

Business Intelligence careers go to people enthusiastic about using technology to uncover interesting solutions to problems that aren't always clear. Some BI professionals are highly technical IT experts who can program their own applications or apply advanced configurations to databases. But many BI professionals don't have a background in IT – coming to business intelligence later in their career or beginning their career there, learning the tools and technologies as they go.

Welcome to CBT Nuggets' Intro to Business Intelligence. This free training answers what Business Intelligence is, what it looks like as a career, and whether it's right for you. Below are 12 free training videos from CBT Nuggets Trainer Knox Hutchinson. He explains everything from what Business Intelligence is to what tools and technologies you should focus on as a business intelligence analyst. You can also read our deep dive into the Business Intelligence career field and learn about its included parts and technologies.

Intro to Business Intelligence Playlist

This free training is meant to help you understand what business intelligence actually is and whether it's right for you as a career. The videos can be watched in order, but you can also skip around to the topics that interest you most. 

Knox starts off with "What Business Intelligence Jobs Are Available" early, before he even starts with "Terms You Need to Know in Business Intelligence" or "Data Types Used in BI". In addition to familiarizing you with the topics and skills that a business intelligence professional needs, these videos will introduce you to the way CBT Nuggets courses are structured and what you can expect from a membership.

What is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence is many things: it's a practice, a set of processes, a career field, and even an art form. Business Intelligence takes tons and tons of data and turns it into something useful, actionable, and accurate – how that happens is where it gets interesting.

Business Intelligence (BI), Defined

Business intelligence is the practice of collecting and analyzing raw data, converting hundreds, thousands, and millions of data points into trends, patterns, and opportunities. BI often answers questions asked by management, project leads, and other stakeholders. There are no concrete questions in BI – they change all the time based on the immediate or long-term needs of different players.

Key Components of Business Intelligence

Business intelligence as a practice has many different components: data analysis, business analytics, BI tools, training and certification, and more.

Data analysis is the backbone of business intelligence: systematic processes for inspecting, cleaning, transforming, and interpreting data in a way that uncovers patterns and trends. 

Business analytics is where analysis meets business practices: statistical and analytical methods that uncover insights and trends about companies or teams. Finally, business intelligence tools are software applications that enable data integration, query and analysis, visualization, reporting, and collaboration.

Business Intelligence Career Opportunities

As a career field, business intelligence offers many more opportunities than one might initially realize. Business intelligence analyst is the job title given to many people in the field, and that catch-all term usually applies to anyone who collects, analyzes, and interprets data to provide actionable insights. But business intelligence careers rarely follow a strict or specific outline. Instead, they're improvised according to the concerns and needs of the business on the ground.

Some other job titles you might see in business intelligence include:

  • Business Intelligence Analyst

  • Data Analyst (focus on more technical aspects of data processing and cleaning)

  • Data Scientist (tend to use highly advanced technology solutions like AI and machine learning)

  • Data Managers (uphold quality, security, and compliance requirements) 

  • Database Analysts

  • Database Administrators

  • Network or Server Administrators

Although job responsibilities vary widely, the national average salary for a business intelligence analyst is $80,250 according to Zippia. With more certification, experience and training, that salary can trend toward as high as $107,000. In smaller markets, the salary for a business intelligence analyst can average as low as $59,000.

Data Analysis: Unraveling Insights from Data

Data analysis is one of the fundamental pillars of business intelligence. While not everyone engaged in business intelligence does data analysis, the overwhelming majority of BI professionals do data analysis in some form or another.

Understanding Data Analysis and its Significance

Data analysis is defined as a systematic process of converting raw data into useful information using inspection, cleaning, transformation, and interpretation techniques. Data analysis is essential to business intelligence because without it, raw data can be confusing, misleading, or unhelpful.

Imagine two stores: Store A is a large store in a densely populated region that held many major sales promotions last year. Store B is a smaller store in a suburb that held no promotions last year. The raw data may show that Store A's revenue exceeded Store B's. But data analysis could reveal that due to the higher rent, higher wages for more employees, and overall cost of marketing promotions, Store A is actually less profitable than Store B.

Data analysis is crucial to business intelligence because it exposes misunderstandings or bad assumptions while revealing valuable insights about the reality that underlies raw data.

Key Techniques and Methods for Data Analysis

Organizations use them for different reasons, but the techniques and methods of data analysis tend to stay the same. Data collection is the first step of data analysis – there's no analysis without data, and that data has to be found and gathered. The next step in data analysis is cleaning and preparation – ensuring accuracy and consistency across data sets.

Once it's been collected and cleaned, the next technique in data analysis is transformation into a usable format. After that, exploration and interpretation are the data analysis techniques that uncover patterns and trends to answer specific questions. The data analysis process wraps up with communication – which can include writing reports, producing visualizations, or updating other data.

Data Analysis in Business Decision Making

Business intelligence professionals are often the difference between profitability and failure for their companies because they can take vast amounts of data and uncover the secrets to good decision making. Data analysis helps leaders make decisions that are objectively true and not based on assumptions, bias, or emotions. 

For example, data analysis can provide a better understanding of a company's customers and consumers. Marketing, sales, and development teams may think they understand who wants their product and why, but data analysis can reveal exactly who's buying their product, as well as when and why. Data analysis also helps with business decision-making by revealing future risks or threats.

Data Visualization: Telling Stories With Data

You could imagine business intelligence as a coin with two faces: the back-end and the front-end. The back end involves everything discussed until now: data analysis methods like collection, processing, and analysis. The "front" end is data visualization, or the results of the data analysis work: graphics, renderings, and charts that tell stories.

The Power of Data Visualization in BI

Data visualization is where the persuasive power of business intelligence lies. Data analysis can reveal all truths and insights, but nothing might ever come of it without explanatory pictures or persuasive charts. 

Data visualization is the process of converting data into something visual (usually a chart, graph or graphic). Done well, data visualization makes data instantly understandable and intuitive. 

Admittedly, when the audience has the time and patience to make sense of them, numbers and data can be persuasive. But with data visualization, it's possible to persuade almost anyone of almost anything – even if they don't know anything else about the subject.

Types of Data Visualizations and Their Applications

There are many different types of data visualizations, and just like you wouldn't want to use a sports car when you need a pick-up truck, each of them has an application they're best for.

Bar charts and pie charts are a form of data visualization typically used to display distributions and proportions of similarly categorized data. Line graphs are better for showing trends and changes over time. Scatter plots are a data visualization that helps reveal relationships between variables. Geospatial heatmaps use color coding to explain patterns in large geographical data sets.

Design Principles for Effective Data Visualizations

The point of data visualization is to tell a story. The clearer the message and the simpler the story, the more likely it is to work effectively. Although there are many different design principles to consider when creating data visualizations, the most important one is to be thoughtful. 

Consider carefully what your viewer will experience when they see what you're creating. Then do everything you can to simplify and clarify it. Color, scale, labels, titles – these can all drastically improve the decisions that get made by your audience, and you can help them reach good decisions with good data visualization.

BI Tools: Empowering Business Intelligence

Every carpenter doesn't have to invent the hammer, and every business intelligence analyst doesn't have to invent their tools, either. There are generic BI tools as well as custom-built business intelligence tools that can help you achieve incredible things.

Overview of Business Intelligence Tools

There are software applications designed for every phase and process of business intelligence. From collection and analysis to visualization and reporting, there are premade BI tools that can help enormously. But there's an old expression to remember: "When you're holding a hammer, everything looks like a nail." 

When learning about business intelligence tools, don't settle on the first one – learn as many as possible to ensure you don't find yourself in a rut.

BI tools include data integration tools that connect various data sources like spreadsheets and cloud services and consolidate all your data in one place. Data exploration tools provide interfaces and dashboards to help abstract your journey through data and show you the forest without getting caught up on the trees. 

Query and analysis tools in business intelligence help you extract specific answers to your questions. Reporting tools are valuable BI tools that generate reports and presentations automatically. There are even data governance BI tools that maintain security, privacy, and compliance as you sift through and make sense of data.

What are the Most Popular BI Tools?

There are dozens of Business Intelligence Tools on the market, and they range from all-in-one packages like Microsoft Power BI to more focused tools like Sisense, which emphasizes data visualization. Tableau is a popular commercial BI tool that beginners and advanced users can use for navigating and visualizing huge data sets. 

There are also open-source or free business intelligence tools like OpenRefine, BIRT, and Pentaho, which remain powerful and robust despite not being commercial in the typical sense.

Business Intelligence Jobs, Training, and Certification

If you want a career in business intelligence, there are established paths to reach certain jobs. Don't flail about and hope that getting random business intelligence training will lead to a good job. Take BI training courses and certification programs that businesses and employers know and recognize.

Are Business Intelligence Certifications Important?

The field of business intelligence is large, and there are many different skills and tools related to it. To be successful in business intelligence, you don't have to learn each one of them – only the ones that relate to the job you want. Business intelligence certifications narrow all the skills, knowledge, techniques, and tools down to what you should be familiar with. Employers know and trust the organizations who issue business intelligence certifications and know that earning one stands for commitment to excellence.

What are the Best Business Intelligence Related Training & Certifications?

The Microsoft Certified: Power BI Data Analyst Associate is a hugely popular business intelligence certification. It covers generic BI knowledge and specific familiarity with the Microsoft Power BI software application. Learning to use Microsoft Power BI and earning the Data Analyst Associate cert is an excellent way to start a BI career.

Tableau is a business intelligence tool owned by Salesforce that ingests huge amounts of customer and business data and helps analysts navigate and make sense of it. Tableau maintains several certifications that cover familiarity with the tool at different levels of expertise. If you're considering a career in business intelligence, learning the essentials of Tableau and how to use it is a great way to start your career.

Although Google doesn't certify BigQuery anymore, that doesn't make knowing how to use the enterprise-level data warehouse any less valuable. If you don't want to tie yourself to a vendor like Microsoft or AWS by earning one of their certifications, consider an online course in how to use BigQuery.

Business Intelligence is a huge career field full of possibilities and options. In today's data-driven world, companies desperately need trained professionals who can find all their data, make sense of it, and tell them what to do based on it. 

Careers in business intelligence are much more than any one thing. They're often challenging, interesting and well-compensated. But maybe business intelligence isn't quite right for you – maybe one of the other fields of IT is. Check out all of our Intro to IT pages and find out what best suits your skills and interests.


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