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Wayne Eckerson

New to Business Intelligence? What Every Executive Should Know

How to get started with BI

“The best thing...,” replied Merlin...“is to learn something… Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing that the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you."
-- T.H. White, The Once and Future King

Business is competitive. We, as business executives, seek every advantage to ensure the survival of our organizations. We know that any edge, no matter how small, can spell the difference between success and failure, between profitability and loss.

Over the years, we’ve adopted a succession of competitive strategies hawked by well-known management consultants: we’ve streamlined processes, improved quality, put customers first, nurtured our partners, focused on execution, put the right people “on the bus,” and created balanced metrics. A cynic might say that we’ve exhausted all means of besting our rivals -- and yesterday’s advantages are merely today’s cost of doing business.

Inexhaustible Competitive Advantage

Yet, there is an inexhaustible source of competitive advantages that we have yet to fully harness. That is: intelligence. More specifically, human intelligence augmented by information. In high tech, we call this “business intelligence.”

Business intelligence delivers the right information to the right people at the right time so they can take action to fix problems or exploit opportunities before it’s too late. With business intelligence, we make our average workers smarter and our brightest people more brilliant.

Armed with insights and proactive information, our staff can do all the things high-priced management consultants recommend: streamline supply chains, optimize store layouts, maximize marketing lift, tailor the customer experience, detect fraud in real-time, predict customer behavior, and make better decisions.

Lasting Competitive Advantage

We know these things make us more competitive, and we want them -- badly. Yet, often it’s hard to quantify the business value of making people smarter through business intelligence. Building a data foundation that gives workers quick, easy access to clean, integrated, and relevant information to make smart decisions quickly is not cheap or easy.

Improving our corporate IQ through business intelligence is perhaps the last great frontier of competitive advantage. By empowering our workers with information, they become more nimble and intelligent. With business intelligence, we create a learning organization that adapts quickly to market changes and stays one step ahead of the competition.

Getting Started

How do you get started with business intelligence?

The good news is that this discipline is nearly 15 years old. There are many knowledgeable practitioners who can help you kick start a program and many examples of organizations that have successfully implemented business intelligence. With the advent of the cloud and open source platforms and an agile vendor community that is increasingly targeting small and medium-sized businesses, it no longer costs much to launch a program. You can implement your first workgroup or departmental solution with an integrated data repository for under $25,000.

Finally, if you are looking for objective advice, TDWI ( is a professional association of business intelligence and data warehousing professionals worldwide that provides vendor-neutral education, training, and research. TDWI is designed to help you understand the many dimensions of business intelligence and help you take the first steps toward achieving a lasting competitive edge through business intelligence.

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