Business Intelligence

BI Reporting - A Simple Guide To Business Intelligence Reports

Kenneth Weesgaard
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Business Intelligence reporting, or BI reporting, is a function of business that increases in relevancy every year.


Loosely defined as the act of collecting and analyzing company data, BI reporting can provide valuable insights for anyone hoping to make smarter, data-driven decisions.


The increase in popularity of BI reports across virtually all industries is fuelled by the continuous advances in technology that make handling large data sets accessible to a greater number of professionals.


But how? The plethora of business intelligence tools now available are helping businesses transform insights into action. In fact, it’s never been easier to crunch the numbers than it is today.


And it works! A Deloitte survey in 2019 found that businesses with CEO’s that make data-driven decisions are 77% more likely to reach their goals.


Feeling overwhelmed by all this data talk? In this article, we’ll explore what BI reporting is, why it matters for your business, and some best practices that can be adopted across any industry.


What is BI reporting?

Whilst the basics of BI reporting could be understood as aggregating and analyzing large sets of data to provide real-time insights into business operations, there is significantly more that goes into creating a business intelligence report.


One of the key ways in which business intelligence reporting facilitates these insights is through data visualization. It can be difficult to draw conclusions when you’re staring at endless streams of numbers. But when this data is presented clearly, it’s much easier.


By now, everyone has probably already seen the data visualization meme that first gained traction on LinkedIn a few years ago, but it’s still one of the best representations of the strengths of BI reports:

Courtesy of Stanford University


And this is one of the best explanations as to why excel spreadsheets just don’t cut it anymore - BI reporting tools are able to perform these functions instantaneously. The insights offered by  BI reports would require hours of work by a human. 


Once the data is presented, observations can be made about elements of the business such as trends in revenue, employee efficiency, manufacturing productivity, and essentially anything else it is possible to measure.


The extent of BI reporting is limited only by the scope of the data you are able to collect. The insights that BI reporting provides would have been overlooked prior to these processes being facilitated by technology.


Business intelligence reports therefore provide management with a more holistic understanding of their businesses, thus enabling a more strategic approach to decisions affecting the long- or short-term future of the business.


Platforms like the GoSimplo dashboard provide companies with greater insight via data visualization. The platform visualizes business critical financial and performance data that facilitate more accurate decision making for organizations. Try GoSimplo for free today.


Example of GoSimplo Dashboard


The Different Types of BI reporting

So now you understand the basic functionalities of a BI report, it is important to learn that this is just the most elementary of steps of BI reporting. There are a multitude of different types, each with a specific use-case and requiring specific sets of data.


Here, we’ll explore some of the different types of business intelligence report to give you an idea of the type of BI reporting you could be doing…


Performance Management BI Reporting

These BI reports can be useful in providing insight on the performance of individuals, teams, or departments within an organization. These business intelligence reports are especially relevant to senior management, as performance ultimately determines profit.


But this type of BI reporting goes beyond merely financial numbers, taking into account aggregate data that measures a variety of KPIs.


The real-time nature of such reporting allows businesses to implement any necessary changes to their operations before significant damage is caused by poor performance.


Courtesy of Pexels


But beyond any short-term course-corrections that performance management BI reports afford management, they also contribute to overarching strategic decisions that influence the future of the business. This is because, in many cases, they are able to identify the driving force behind the success of the business.


Is one area of the organization wildly more successful than all the others? Are there elements of the business that should be divested, or invested more heavily into to try to increase productivity? These are the kinds of questions that performance management reporting helps to answer.


Predictive Analytics BI Reporting

Predictive Analytics is a type of business intelligence that takes BI reporting one step further. It provides reliable predictions based on current and historical data. Predictive analytics tools are highly desirable, as they remove a lot of the uncertainty from decision-making.


Whilst this type of BI report is often associated with predicting the outcome of events in the future, it can also be used to determine the likely cause of events that took place in the past, making it an extremely powerful BI reporting tool.


Courtesy of Pexels


This type of data reporting in business intelligence uses predictive models to discover patterns and relationships in the data that reveal threats and business opportunities. It does this by estimating the statistical probability of a given outcome for a specific decision.


For these reasons, predictive analytics are especially useful to the inexperienced business-owner, who is typically less confident about strategic planning


However, they also have many applications for business both large and small, such as customer relationship management, validating legal decisions, and consumer credit scoring.


Augmented Analytics BI Reporting

Often described as the future of BI reporting, augmented analytics uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to automate data discovery and preparation. These techniques eliminate some of the steps in the data analytics process that need to be undertaken by data scientists.


Such processes reduce the risk of human error or potential biases in data preparation, providing businesses with even more accurate insights than have previously been available. 


Whilst this type of BI reporting is very much in its early stages, there is a broad scope for its application across many industries.


What are the benefits of BI reporting?

It’s fair to say that BI reporting can create a significant competitive advantage for the enterprising business leader. 


Even if the majority of your competitors are already engaging with reporting and business intelligence, there are substantial advantages to be gained simply by revealing the insights in your company’s data, including but not limited to:



From real-time insights into the results of your business operations to sharing data across an organization, there are numerous advantages to BI reporting. Here we’ll explore just a few of the benefits of BI reporting in greater detail.


Providing insights to non-tech employees with BI reports

BI reporting democratizes data, taking it out of the hands of data scientists, and making it more accessible to a broader audience. 


Today’s business intelligence reporting tools have such seamless UX designs that they can be used and understood by those with limited technical backgrounds.


This brings the benefits of data intelligence to a larger proportion of an organization, which can have dynamic effects on organizational productivity


Knowledge is power, and the ability to access and understand data, relevant metrics, and performance analytics can be very beneficial. People care about what they understand.


Access to business intelligence insights is also unrestricted with BI reporting. The interfaces that display BI reports are accessible at any time of the day, as data can be continuously gathered and analyzed in real-time. 


Many business intelligence reporting tools also have mobile app functionality, meaning they can be accessed from literally anywhere, by anyone, at any time.


Maximizing responsiveness through workflow speed optimization with BI reports

The kind of immediacy which is required to stay ahead in business can often mean rash decisions, or unconsidered decisions. Whilst data-driven decision-making is always preferred, in the past this has simply not been an option.


In many cases, key decision-makers have not had the luxury of waiting for company data to be delivered, especially if this requires alignment of multiple data sources. Prior to automation, this type of BI reporting could take many hours.


In fact, of over 2600 businesses surveyed, the majority said that business intelligence reports had benefited their business in providing faster reporting and analysis:


Graphic created in-house, data from BI survey


Manual reporting and business intelligence acts as a bottleneck, significantly slowing the workflow of a business. But without these BI reports, stakeholders are unable to analyze the data, leading to less sound strategic decisions.


As a result, a trade-off has historically been made between responsiveness to a given situation, and data-validation of strategy. 


However, the kind of automated BI reporting that is possible today makes that trade-off obsolete - in just a few clicks stakeholders can access all the data they need.


Predicting customer behavior with BI reports

The increasing importance of customer-centric business models, as well as the explosion of eCommerce (via which every move a customer makes can be tracked), has led to a huge spike in BI reports pertaining to customer behavior.


There are few businesses in existence that aren’t interested in optimizing their customer experience. Not least because customers expect an increasingly personalized purchasing experience.


Courtesy of Pexels


Customers online are more discerning than ever, especially considering the myriad of options available to them. BI reporting allows an eCommerce business to analyze both aggregated historical customer data, as well as data pertaining to an individual customer’s actions. 


Businesses can use this data to make a prediction about their future behavior.


Such business intelligence reports can connote things as diverse as a customer's emotive response via sentiment analysis, their likelihood to respond to specific sales promotions, and the degree to which they will be loyal to a given brand.


Predicting customer behavior with BI reports can therefore imply whether a Customer’s Lifetime Value (CLV) is likely to be worth the acquisition cost. 


All of these factors make BI reporting a powerful tool in the eCommerce space.


Forecasting with BI reports

It’s a commonly accepted principle that the use of KPIs will greatly increase the likelihood of success for a business. But the degree of uncertainty in business today can mean KPIs need to change relatively quickly. This can be especially relevant to areas of business such as forecasting.


A survey asking more than 2000 businesses how they utilize business intelligence reports found that the most common use case was forecasting:



Graphic created in-house, data from BI survey


BI reporting can amalgamate data from different departments, allowing businesses to make use of all the data available to them. The grouping of this data creates a BI report that is accurate and wide-ranging. 


For manufacturing-focused businesses, this can provide huge benefits throughout the entire value chain - procuring the optimal volume of raw materials, producing the amount of product required to meet demand, and sales indicating an appropriate pricing strategy.


Real-time measurement of KPIs allows businesses to implement dynamic forecasting, resulting in a more reflexive organization. 


Ultimately, these factors lead to lower direct costs associated with inventory management, and decreased risk of loss such as dead stock or selling stock at a heavily reduced price. 


Streamlining the procurement process with BI reports

Any business that has significant stock turnover will know that the procurement process is critical to business sustainability. BI reporting allows procurement professionals to discover patterns and trends in their data in order to make their processes more efficient.


By monitoring KPIs such as purchase order cycle time or number of suppliers, business intelligence reporting empowers businesses to evaluate supplier performance against their competitors. This streamlines the overall procurement process, thereby lowering costs.


BI reporting can further streamline procurement by reducing the likelihood of buyer vs. supplier conflicts. This is because business intelligence reports can stimulate trust in the buyer/supplier relationship by facilitating a higher degree of transparency.



Analyzing the data in procurement BI reports allows the buyer to have a greater overview of deliverables in real-time (benefitting the buyer), whilst providing more accurate and advanced information on purchasing behavior (benefitting the supplier).


The future of BI reporting and purchasing? Increasing degrees of insight could lead to automated purchases in the case of items of lower strategic importance.


Enhancing data quality with BI reports

When it comes to data handling, the familiar adage “quality of quantity” always rings true. Through BI reporting, businesses are able to gain as much value as possible from their data.


In many cases, it is only once all the data has been analyzed and clearly visualized that the ‘truth’ of the data is revealed. 


BI reporting can produce surprising results. A metric that management had not previously considered important is revealed to be business critical


In other cases, causation and correlation may have been confused, and it is discovered that the focus has been on the wrong aspect of a business’s operations.


Courtesy of Pexels


It is only through the thorough curation of data that BI reporting provides that such insight is possible. 


Stakeholders can therefore create a narrative structure around the data. In order to justify strategic decisions, data must be explained in a way that is digestible for the intended audience - not everyone is a data scientist! 


In this way, BI reporting facilitates a greater understanding of data-driven decisions by a wider audience.


Improved customer satisfaction with BI reports

As previously discussed, we have a greater capacity to track customer actions online today and therefore gather customer data. This means that both current customers and target customers are able to offer ‘feedback’ without even realizing it.


Any time a user interacts with your business online (either positively or negatively), this data is used when reporting business intelligence. In this sense, BI reporting provides the customer with a stronger voice. It also provides a deeper analysis of the customer, in which you can pinpoint areas for improvement, and business models can adapt to better suit their customers. 


Such adaptations allow businesses to better cater to customer expectations, and therefore tailor their offering to customer demand, or provide more personalized solutions to customers. What’s more, BI reporting can also provide insight into the KPIs directly associated with customer satisfaction.  


Ultimately, if what is measured is managed, then businesses can continuously work towards improving these metrics.


Increased revenues with BI reports

Given the benefits of BI reporting,  it’s no surprise that it has the potential to generate increases in revenues and lead to higher profit margins. In fact, business intelligence has a reported average Return on Investment (ROI) of 127% over a 3 year period.


Increased employee productivity, tighter management of costs, and increased customer loyalty all have the potential to make a big difference to your bottom-line.


Courtesy of Pexels


It is the ability of BI reporting to turn everyday information into valuable insight that is the true driver of revenue and profit for businesses. There are countless examples of companies that have raised revenue via data reporting and business intelligence. For example, Continental Airlines were able to leverage BI reporting to increase revenue by approximately $500 million


Business intelligence reporting doesn’t have to be complicated, it just takes the right tools to generate the insights that are relevant to your business. Tangible gains are just a quick step away.


In which industries are BI reports most useful?

Business intelligence is becoming more and more important, with the global market expected to be worth $33.3 billion by 2025. This represents a CAGR of 7.6% - an enviable growth rate for the post-pandemic era.


In fact, business intelligence tools are used by a surprising 46% of small businesses.


A 2020 Dresner study found that business intelligence adoption was highest in the manufacturing industry, with 58% of businesses using BI. This was followed by the business and financial services industry, with a BI adoption rate of 40%.


Whilst BI reporting takes place in a wide range of industries, here are some of the most interesting examples:



Business Intelligence reports in the retail industry

The retail industry is a notoriously cut-throat and saturated market with tight profit margins. For that reason, it is one of the industries where BI is particularly popular.


One notable example of the efficacy of BI reports is the reduction of theft - one of the biggest causes of lost profits in retail. BI reporting can provide real-time analytics about inventory levels for businesses in granular detail,  referring to individual stores or warehouses. 


This not only allows them to place orders at the optimal times, but it also provides a greater overview of where discrepancies in stock are most likely to occur, thus implying which locations need to be better surveilled.


But BI reports are useful in more than just cost reduction within retail, as data can be leveraged to manage sales performance. Sales can also be carefully analyzed by division, location, or if necessary, individual salesperson.


Data can be consolidated into a single BI report on individual product line sales and costs. This provides an overview of the demand for specific products, as well as an accurate indication of their profitability, thereby facilitating retail management.


Courtesy of Pexels


Via such business intelligence, brands are able to provide customers with the optimal product offering at the optimal time, maximizing the likelihood of a sale. A successful example of BI reporting is that of Lotte.com, a leading eCommerce platform in South Korea with a heritage in department stores.


Lotte was experiencing high levels of cart abandonment, but were unsure why. They implemented customer experience analytics to determine their customers’ online behavior via a BI report. Lotte found that their checkout process was too long, which allowed them to rework their website’s UX design, and engage in targeted marketing. 


This resulted in an extra $10 million in sales after one year.


Business Intelligence reports in the telecommunications industry

One of the biggest challenges facing any telecommunications company is the need to store, secure, and work with large volumes of data. This means that all too often, valuable data that might provide business critical insights gets lost in the crowd, especially across large telecommunication organizations.


BI reporting can mitigate this issue: when business intelligence tools are integrated into an organization's processes, important data is automatically captured and shared. This data may be aggregated from multiple sources across various departments, and collated into a single business intelligence report.


This type of BI reporting prevents data silos across organizations, where different departments are unable to access each other’s data. Such BI systems also reduce error in data transfer and require zero man hours of work beyond set-up. 


Ultimately, this allows departments to collaborate more effectively, making overall operations within an organization more efficient.


BI reporting also facilities the monetization of Internet of Things (IoT) data, as this sector continues to grow. 


There are more than 30 billion IoT objects globally, all producing data for telecom companies to collect. The simple, accessible, and real-time nature of BI reports is one of the best ways for  telecom companies to make use of this data.


Business Intelligence reports in the financial industry

The financial industry has been one of the biggest users of data for a long time, due to the relevance statistical analysis has to areas of financial services such as stocks and shares.


Today, BI reporting is utilized within the financial industry for a wide variety of purposes. One such purpose is fraud detection. Managing the risk of fraud requires a deep level of integration of BI tools into the day-to-day operations of financial institutions.


Data reporting and business intelligence allows banks to detect patterns in customer behavior that signify fraudulent activity, whilst data on employee activities can indicate when and where internal threats are likely to occur.


Courtesy of Pexels


Banks also use BI reports to indicate the desirability of individual customers for financial services such as loans. By tracking customer behavior against historical data and statistical models, business intelligence tools are able to predict whether a customer will make their loan repayments with a greater degree of accuracy than a human employee could.


American Express has also used business intelligence reports to indicate which customers are most likely to close their accounts and switch to another provider. This has allowed them to target those customers with special offers to encourage them to stay loyal, thereby reducing the churn rate of the business.


BI Reporting Best Practices

Whilst the BI reporting requirements of every organization are different, there are certain practices that anyone aiming to develop a business intelligence report should adhere to.



If you want your BI report to be accurate, there are certain factors that must be considered. Here’s the 5 best practices every business should adopt when BI reporting:

Define who the key stakeholders are

All BI reporting should have a target audience. The information you present to a managing director will most likely be different to the insights you present to a factory line manager. Consider the motivation of each type of stakeholder and what the purpose of presenting them with this information is.


List all the relevant stakeholders for a given BI report, and provide only the information that matches their needs and technical abilities. Next, take into account the purpose of this business intelligence report - what are you trying to achieve or validate with this data? In BI reporting, precision is critical.


Including too much information can distract from the point you are making, including too little can lead to stakeholders making incorrect conclusions or missing data that is actually important.


Courtesy of Pexels


Choose the right metrics

Once you’ve outlined the purpose of a BI report, you need to define what data you need to include. Which KPIs are relevant to the issue you will be analyzing? This step will also be unique to your business, as the same issue can involve vastly different metrics depending on the size and scope of the business, or the industry that business is in.


Consider how comprehensive the analysis needs to be in order to tell the right data story and allow your stakeholders to interpret the data. Consider the time-frame that needs to be analyzed: is it a long- or short-term issue or goal that is the focus of this BI report?


Metrics measured are often specific to the department that is conducting the BI reporting. For example, the finance department might select the liquidity ratio, or ROI as its KPI, whereas the marketing department may select conversion rate or customer acquisition cost.


It is important to reiterate the importance of precision and specificity in BI reporting here. Do not include irrelevant metrics. Even data visualizations can get confusing or cluttered if they are not focused.


GoSimplo’s out-of-the-box platform allows you to clearly visualize your company’s business critical metrics for an uncomplicated overview of your performance. Try GoSimplo for free today.

Example of GoSimplo Dashboard



But remember, whilst clarity and consistency are key to making the most of your data, it is important to experiment occasionally by including alternative metrics in order to discover whether they provide additional context to the issue at hand.


BI reporting can uncover unexpected patterns in your data that you weren’t previously aware of, and remaining flexible and open-minded is just as important.


Adopt a data-driven culture across your business

BI reporting is only effective when it is fully utilized. For stakeholders to appreciate the power of business intelligence reports, they need to have a base level of understanding about their purpose. 


For some stakeholders, this may be harder than others. This makes business intelligence reporting particularly relevant when behavior is entrenched in certain parts of an organization, or there is a culture of ‘going with your gut’.


Similarly, BI reporting can only be as accurate as the data you are able to collect, and in a lot of cases, data collection requires a degree of human involvement. If members of an organization do not see the value in collecting data, they are less likely to do so accurately or consistently.


Educating your organization about the value of collecting and analyzing data is the first step towards implementing a data-driven mentality. Teach your team about the ease of use of modern BI reporting tools, and that limited expertise is required to implement data into day-to-day decisions.


Courtesy of Pexels


Making your BI reporting findings accessible to a broader audience within your organization will promote interest in business intelligence reports, and as people become curious, they are more likely to implement data-driven practices. 


As your organization moves towards a data-driven culture, you may consider investing in data literacy. If a greater number of  workers have a basic understanding of how to analyze data, its adoption is likely to increase.


Use dashboards for data visualization

Given that 93% of all human communication is visual, one picture (or dashboard) can be worth far more than words. In fact, we process images 60,000 times quicker than the equivalent information displayed as text.


Deciding on how you visualize your data is as important as choosing what data you’d like to visualize. It’s not just about picking the right metrics, but also about determining how those metrics can be best displayed to argue your purpose.


This can be something small, like displaying information as either a pie chart or a line graph, or something bigger such as interactive elements that allow stakeholders to dig deeper into the data. As with the previous best practices, these BI reporting decisions should be taken on a case by case basis.


Dashboards are BI reporting tools that consolidate all the analyzed data onto a single screen to provide further insight. GoSimplo is a great example of this, with the combination of employee performance data and financial data providing project-based businesses new information around their client revenue.


Example of GoSimplo Dashboard


Dashboard platforms like GoSimplo allow stakeholders to view all the relevant metrics at a single glance, providing a ‘big picture’ analysis of the organization's insights. Try GoSimplo today for free.


Dashboards typically have optimized UX design and present the data in a simple format, and can be accessed on desktop, tablet, or mobile devices.


There is a vast selection of dashboard options available, many suitable for specific niches or use cases. They can be updated in real-time and are interactive. This makes them both fast and effective in providing business insights, thus greatly improving the efficiency of your business’ workflow.


Be willing to iterate and evolve

Your BI reporting needs are likely to change as your business grows or evolves in the products/services it provides. The metrics that were once relevant to your business may not be business critical in the next six months. 


Revisit the aforementioned best practices regularly to ensure that your BI reports are still providing the best insights for your business.


Equally, your business intelligence reports should change over time in response to advances in technology. Perhaps the dashboard you are using has added new functionalities that you may wish to incorporate into your BI reporting. 


Keep updated on anything new, you never know when new tech is going to provide you with a competitive edge.


Conclusion

By now you should have a well-rounded understanding of BI reporting, but perhaps you’re still not sure how it’s applicable to your business.


Remember business intelligence reports democratize data, providing insights to stakeholders with limited technical expertise, and this allows your business to make better informed, data-driven decisions at every level of management.


And all companies have data that can be collected. It just requires the establishment of processes that gather that data. Once this is accomplished, plug-and-play data dashboards can be used to instantly visualize that data.


This makes BI reporting as simple in its implementation as it is in providing insights that quality your business decisions.


So what are you waiting for? Start researching the BI tools that could provide you massive business efficiency gains today!



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