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Ellen Duero Rohwer, CFRE
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What is Business Intelligence?


In theory, Business Intelligence is simple—it’s the technologies and processes businesses use to analyze data—but the reality of its application in the world, and for our nonprofit clients, is a bit more involved than that.

Too many organizations start their work at the presentation layer stage (more on that below). Starting at a dashboard can create some problems if you miss out on collecting, organizing, and analyzing data effectively. So let’s start there.

Think about all the data at your organization that you might care about—information about donors, transactions, ticket buyers, marketing campaigns, purchases at the gift shop, website visits, etc. If you were to take all of this disparate data and collect it in one central place, you would likely be on your way to creating a Data Warehouse—the common first step toward building a Business Intelligence suite.

According to a Gartner survey, BI has become the number one technology priority of CIOs around the world.

The next step is organizing data, whether from one source or multiple sources, in a way that is easy to report on. This might mean matching records across systems, simplifying multiple tables into flat files, or other steps to make easy reporting possible.

From this nicely organized Warehouse of your data, you would take the data and analyze it using calculations, averages, and metrics that would give a non-technical person a prayer of being able to gain some insight from that glut of data. This analysis could be a simple report, perhaps a pivot table where you can drag and drop fields onto a grid. Taking your nicely cleaned and organized information and learning things from it can be the hardest and most interesting part of BI. How do tickets sell on Tuesday versus Thursday? Which zip codes provide us the best average gift? Building good Business Intelligence means taking a lot of time and using the needs and trends of your business (giving trends, marketing trends, donor trends) to inform which metrics you create.

Finally, you present your data to the business users. Presentation layer work also requires careful thought and planning. What is the story we need to communicate, and to whom? Does this piece of the story make sense as a heat map, a scatterplot, a gauge, or something else? How many elements in a dashboard is too many? This is where all the hard work done to collect, organize, and analyze data can pay off, but a nuanced approach to presentation is also key to success.

That, in short, is Business Intelligence: collect, organize, analyze, and present data to drive insights. What is JCA’s solution? JCA Answers™ is a straightforward Business Intelligence suite that follows these “classic” contours—and has been pre-built for six popular systems. JCA Answers offers a Data Warehouse of your data along with strong basic reporting. JCA Answers takes this information and adds the metrics and business logic and charts to present to business users with a user-friendly interface. And, JCA Answers finds the most important metrics for your business and presents them for any business user looking to use their data to make rapid decisions. According to a Gartner survey, BI has become the number one technology priority of CIOs around the world. With a set of tools to help your organization thrive in the new economy, what’s not to love about BI?