Business intelligence is defined as,
The process of gathering information about a business or industry matter; a broad range of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help make business decisions.While I am not an expert in this field I do have a fundamental understanding of the key concepts. The picture below shows a high level view of a simple business intelligence configuration.There are:
- Source systems which gather the information that will be analyzed.
- Information from the source systems are stored in their native databases or other data sources. Typically the database are configured for speed of processing. This is good for processing transactions quickly but bad for analyzing them.
- Information from the data sources goes through a process known as ETL where the data is extracted from the source system, transformed (to meet business needs) and loaded into a data warehouse. Many different data sources can be consolidated.
- Information from the data warehouse is made available to end-users in the form of data marts where the data is organized to answer specific types of business questions (e.g., sales data can be cross referenced by product, region, time, sales representative, etc...)
- Finally, reporting and analytic tools are used to analyze the information in the data marts. This genre of reporting tools are known collectively as on-line analytical processing (OLAP for short.) There are a few different variations of OLAP tools: MOLAP or multi-dimensional OLAP and relational OLAP or ROLAP. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For more information on OLAP I suggest going to the OLAP report.
- Do you need real-time reporting? Is it important to understand what is going on right now? By nature, most business intelligence configurations update their information at a frequency insufficient for real-time reporting.
- Are there standard reporting needs or are reporting needs of a more ad-hoc nature? The answer to this question my mean that one of MOLAP or ROLAP may be more relevant.