Business Intelligence & Business Analytics in Simple Terms

I had gone to Park Royal Industrial Area in London with my friend to  meet one of his  clients who runs an Import/Export Distribution business and his company was specializing in all types of tiles. This company has his office in one of his warehouses. He had three additional warehouses in the same premises.

During  our  conversation  he said, I am  not  technical   and we  don’t understand a lot of buzz words in your BI world but  can you explain to me  in plain English  what is BI & BI Analytics? and how it can help my business?

I was really not expecting  this question and was a bit surprised with his question.  I said OK  let me try to  give a simple definition.

“Business Intelligence  will provide  relevant  and reliable  information  about a business to the right people and the right time to make informed decisions for efficient operations and to improve your profitability”.

I  said  let me  take this opportunity  to  understand  your business  and come up with high level recommendations on how BI & Business Analytics can help. As a first step  I tried to understand  his business and how he and his team run their day to day operations and what are his key pain points?

In summary  he  had around 10 key suppliers from multiple countries  such as Italy, Spain, South Africa and India and other south Asian countries.  I was surprised and pleased  to know that  India (which is my home country) exports a variety of high quality tiles at very competitive prices.  So he imports the tiles of different brands and qualities  from these suppliers and then distributes in wholesale to local retailers  in London and  other parts of the United Kingdom.  He was also exporting them outside the UK to some countries. But 70% of his sales revenue was from local clients and 30% was from exports.

We then  had a short trip to his warehouses and  spoke to key team members  of his Purchasing, Sales, Warehouse departments  and tried to understand how they run their operations and  their inputs on what improvements can be made for smoother operations. Based on  this short brief and  talking to members of his team below were my key observations

  1. Most of their processes were manual  and a lot of their time was spent on phone calls and replying to email queries from customers/suppliers.
  2. Processing of Purchase and Sales order was completely manual
  3. No clear visibility of stock position and Inventory status
  4. No use of any ERP system
  5. Only tools  used were Simple Word  and Excel  and Finance package Quick book.


From the above figure the solution is split in three sections.  First section on the left is all about streamlining the key operational processes such as Purchase, Sales, Inventory and Finance processes. This will enable your business to  run your operations smoothly and efficiently. You can do by implementing an ERP  specially suitable for your industry vertical as in this case it is in the distribution business.  There are many ERP vendors  in the market  and you have a lot of choices to pick from based on what suits best for your business and also value for your money.

Other two sections on the right focus on  getting real time insights  of your business by implementing business analytics. Business analytics will provide  you real time insights  to key stakeholders such as Management team, Suppliers and Warehouse Managers to appropriate key performance indicators  based on their  roles. So it can enable them  to monitor, track and make informed business decisions. For example  Dashboard for suppliers  will help them to monitor  in real time the stock positions of products they supply to their  customers and deliver them next lot  just in time by pushing them new consignment at the right time. For warehouse managers their custom dashboard will enable them  to stay in control of a deliveries/shipments, Stock movements, rejections and damages.

For a sales/marketing team  a customer feedback is important and can provide some pointers which can help to address any customer grievances and constantly improve  the product’s quality and improve service quality and also prepare marketing campaigns to suit different types of customers. Architecture to implement BI solution is shown below.

From the above figure  you can  see that data is key  for any business. So the first stage is to capture data from  different sources such as structured data  from your ERP system,  external systems as well as non structured data such as from different social media. The next crucial stage is  to extract and transform your data into meaningful business insight  and keep it in a data warehouse which can then be used to implement visualizations  using tools such as Microsoft Power BI. But  once you have data  in centralized secure database you can then  constantly learn, correct and optimize to improve your business processes and increase your profitability and improve business efficiency.

Advanced  BI techniques  can be applied using Artificial Intelligence by applying neural network to train the model and use it for predictive analysis and automate mundane processes as applicable. Finally  I would say  it is  not to implement it  once and  then forget, but  it is an iterative process where we need to constantly evolve based on insights from business and keep on learning and improving.

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