If you were to ask a dozen people to define business intelligence (BI), you might get a dozen different answers. Coming up with a definitive term can, it seems, feel like trying to nail jello to a wall. One thing’s for certain, though. BI is something businesses can’t afford to ignore.

BI has been defined as applications, technologies, and practices used to gather, assess, integrate, and present data that can facilitate improved decision-making across an enterprise. In order to be useful to corporate decision-makers, BI needs to meet the following 4 criteria:

1. Accurate Data Inputs and Outputs

Any system that requires analysis can fall prey to the garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) problem, in which tainted data can ruin results. In order to get accurate answers (output), the data going in must be accurate and relevant to the questions the business wants to answer.

2. Valuable Insights

Not all insights are useful. Although crunching all the data to find out something that was previously unknown can be satisfying, BI should offer concrete insights.

3. Timeliness

Getting accurate and valuable insight is only part of the equation. BI also must deliver those insights in a timely fashion. This refers, firstly, to the timeliness of the data going in and, secondly, to the timeliness of the insights coming out.

4. Actionable

The last hurdle for any type of BI is to provide insights that are useful. This means, in part, gaining an understanding of practical constraints. For instance, virtually any business could become more efficient if it had unlimited capital to upgrade all its equipment.

Many companies, some of which don’t fully understand the ins and outs of BI, nonetheless covet it. As well they should. While discussions about BI may raise more questions than answers, it can’t be denied that BI can greatly improve a company’s processes.

“BI is the core of all industries,” says Tracy Lenzner, co-founder and principal of LenznerGroup, an executive search services firm dedicated to global security, technology risk management, cyber defense, and digital transformation arenas.

“In 2020 and beyond, BI will help determine competitive outcomes for an organization’s ultimate survival and overall success.”

Lenzner, whose organization uses several BI tools, believes that BI has the potential to greatly improve any business’ processes, operations, and growth. Meanwhile, other experts stress not only that businesses need to avoid misconceptions about BI, but also that the market for BI still has plenty of growth potential going forward. (Read also: Can Big Data Close the Business Intelligence Gap?)

BI Improves Processes

Insisting that BI is a powerful tool that can harness the value of data, Jingjing Zhang, associate professor, Department of Operations and Decision Technologies, at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, says that businesses need data at the core of their operations in order to facilitate proper decision-making.

“Companies can use business intelligence to unleash the power of data through analytical processing, data mining, process mining, and many other forms of analytical activities,” says Prof. Zhang.

“A well-designed BI initiative can provide the right information at the right time to the right person and support both the operational and strategic decision-making process."

“Using BI, companies can drastically improve business processes by mining operational data such as event logs, social media, performance metrics, etc. Simple techniques, such as trends analysis, pattern recognition, data visualization, can unveil the historical, current, and predictive view of the business and facilitate the process analysis, design, and enhancement.”

BI is critical to the company that Lenzner has built with Victoria Lee, senior vice president of LenznerGroup.

“Overall, BI enables us to offer competitive data, fact-based assessment and predictive analytics, to help ensure successful corporate initiatives, like placing the right talent responsible for securing remote and virtual workforces, due to the coronavirus and other challenging events,” says Lenzner, whose company BI toolbox includes things like SaaS company Pitchbook.

Misconceptions About BI

One misconception about BI that Lenzner points out is the idea that only large organizations can benefit from it. The reality is that businesses of all sizes can benefit from using the right tools. (Read also: 4 Bad Business Intelligence Habits to Avoid at All Costs.)

“Regardless of number of employees, industry or revenue, there is currently a wide range of prepackaged, embedded analytics and reporting and solutions, tools and platforms available that can leverage a company’s data, systems and people to provide robust, real-time, and actionable intelligence.”

Another misconception, one highlighted by Prof. Zhang, relates to matters of the scale and cost of projects or initiatives.

“One of the major misconceptions about BI is the scale and cost of the initiative,” she says. “Before chartering a BI project, the leadership needs to consider the nature and diversity of their business units and identify measurable values expected to deliver with BI per business unit that otherwise would not be possible. A big-bang approach of BI implementation may not suit every business case, while the Agile methodology can often deliver values and control the cost and scale of the project.”

BI Market Growing

The BI market has been growing by leaps and bounds over the years, and it doesn’t appear to be easing up, either.

Sachin Kasnale, senior research analyst at Global Market Insights (GMI), says that the BI segment has quickly become one of the foremost modern technologies.

“GMI estimates that the global revenue for BI will exceed USD 20 billion by 2020, and the market is likely to grow at over 10% CAGR by 2025. The market growth has been majorly driven by the extensive proliferation of IoT and the gradual shift of enterprises toward data-oriented business models.”

The Way Forward

What seems certain is that businesses can’t sit on the sidelines as part of a wait-and-see strategy. BI is not some passing fad. It has real business implications. (Read also: Job Role: Business Intelligence Analyst.)

Lenzner, for instance, says BI is driving a major paradigm shift in the global recruitment sector and its war for talent.

”From traditional automated talent systems processes to today’s robust AI recruitment systems, sophisticated AI-enabled platforms offer comprehensive BI processes, which provide greater speed, access to a broader range of candidates including diversity, talent assessments, and automated chatbots [that are] paramount for the 21st-century workforce and digital ecosystem.”