What Is Business Intelligence and Analytics? Differences Between These Two Fields

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Professionals use business analytics to help organizations make decisions based on data.

Globally, more companies are relying on business intelligence and analytics. According to a recent Forbes article, business analytics and business intelligence platforms are high-priority investments for 82% of enterprises. As a result, individuals with strong data science and analytics backgrounds are in high demand. A joint report by Burning Glass Technologies, IBM and the Business-Higher Education Forum points to a 28% increase for data science and advanced business analytics roles between 2017 and 2020.

Understanding the differences and similarities between these fields will enable aspiring professionals to identify the opportunities that are best for them. Programs such as the online Master of Science in Business Analytics from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business can help equip students with the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed.

What Is Business Intelligence?

Business intelligence is a method of analysis driven by technology that enables enterprises to examine and present data relevant to their business. Through business intelligence, companies draw from their internal data stores to arrive at business conclusions and strategies.

Examples of Business Intelligence

Business intelligence can help enterprises strengthen performance. A recent Forbes article noted that increasing revenues through the use of business intelligence is a top objective for enterprises in 2019. Business intelligence also offers benefits in other areas. For example, companies looking to improve the efficiency of their supply chains can use business intelligence to find out if and where specific transportation modes are causing delays. Business intelligence can also help streamline sales functions. Reporting processes can be enhanced through business intelligence to provide quick insights into business opportunities.

Tools for Building and Maintaining Business Intelligence

Business intelligence tools such as dashboards, data mining and visualizations provide decision-makers with relevant, immediate insight. Professionals also rely on extract, transform, load (ETL) tools, which are used to import data between different sources, such as SQL and Excel.

Professionals Who Use Business Intelligence

Business intelligence analysts, data analysts and information technology professionals are the primary users of business intelligence platforms. In the past, executives turned to these professionals to query the data, produce reports and provide analysis. Thanks to self-service, easy-to-use dashboards and the rising adoption of cloud-based platforms, executives and managers can use business intelligence tools directly. When users without business intelligence backgrounds control business intelligence activities, there are pitfalls, including security risks and a lack of standardized metrics.

Companies and Industries That Require Business Intelligence

Business intelligence is essential in retail, wholesale, technology, advertising and other industries where improving customer experiences and making supply chains more efficient are critical to business success. But other sectors also use business intelligence tools. For example, oil and gas companies use business intelligence to analyze geological data to locate ideal drilling areas and conduct market assessments to improve profitability. As business intelligence tools increasingly are deployed to the cloud, small organizations are leading larger ones in the adoption of these tools, according to a Forbes article.

What Is Business Analytics?

Business analytics encompasses processes such as data mining, predictive and applied analytics, and statistics. Through the use of programming languages such as Python and R, data is modeled and simulated to reveal insights and predict future outcomes.

Examples of Business Analytics

Enterprises leverage business analytics to facilitate sales, improve resource allocation and emphasize diversity in their companies. For example, business analytics tools can be used to analyze past metrics, including geography, price and margins of previous business deals, to predict potential results of current initiatives. A company can also use business analytics to track the use of resources, from factories to devices, to identify future needs that can improve business performance and enhance workforce productivity.

Tools for Building and Maintaining Business Analytics

A tool known as visual analytics combines data analysis with data visualization to deliver information in understandable formats, such as graphs. Additional business analytics tools include regression analysis and scenario analysis. These tools enable companies to consider multiple variables before making business decisions. As in a scientific experiment, someone forms a hypothesis and then tests to see if the assumption is correct. For example, a company that wants to determine if the price of a product is affecting product demand can use a regression analysis tool to test its hypothesis.

Another tool, time series analysis, enables companies to explore and extract relevant data in time intervals to predict potential future outcomes. Text analytics enables companies to analyze large quantities of unstructured text, which can be used to recognize patterns and extract business value.

Professionals Who Use Business Analytics

While business professionals can benefit from business analytics tools, professionals who use these tools typically have specialized knowledge in data analytics concepts, models and technologies to derive insights and make recommendations based on what they see in the data. Professionals specializing in business analytics may hold titles such as data analyst, business analytics specialist, marketing analyst, predictive analytics professional and data scientist.

Companies and Industries That Require Business Analytics

Companies in industries such as finance, health care and retail have been quick to see the importance of business analytics. Regardless of industry, companies moving vital elements of their operations to digital platforms — a process known as digital transformation — want to make sense of all the data available to them. They want to find useful information and develop action plans and business strategies. Their focus may be to improve products, marketing programs or customer experiences.

What Are the Differences Between Business Intelligence and Analytics?

Both business intelligence and business analytics rely on data. Both can derive data from multiple sources and present information in a thoroughly organized way to inform business leaders and provide key insights that can improve the competitiveness of their companies. In both areas, professionals with a strong understanding of data are essential to ensuring that a company’s effort to work with data delivers results.

The main difference between business intelligence and business analytics is in what insights they’re intended to reveal. Business analytics provides insights on future business trends, while business intelligence focuses mainly on the current state of a business. While business intelligence uses past data to help leaders make decisions, business analytics focuses on providing insights on trends and predictions. Business intelligence typically uses a more traditional approach, while business analytics uses advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence and machine learning. Business analytics uses mathematical and analytical models and programming languages like Python and R to collect and extract data, sometimes in raw form. A business analytics professional then takes the insights derived from the data and makes it understandable to business leaders.

The Future of Business Analytics

More companies are investing in business analytics to get insights into how their businesses are likely to perform in a changing competitive landscape. Professionals in business analytics roles must be able to effectively use large amounts of data to support managerial decision-making. Candidates for these high-demand roles must also have problem-solving and communication skills, as well as creativity and the ability to work with multidisciplinary teams.

Professionals seeking to excel in a career in business analytics can benefit from an online Master of Science in Business Analytics degree from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. The program is designed to prepare students with a deep understanding of business analytics concepts. Graduates develop a wide range of competencies, including quantitative modeling, data mining and data management, to become well-rounded leaders in analytics who can help companies in all industries make the most of their data.

Prepare to Advance Your Career in Business Analytics

The path to a business analytics career begins with education. Learn how the online Master of Science in Business Analytics program at Maryland Smith can equip graduates with advanced skills and knowledge, giving them an edge in the competitive field of business analytics.


Recommended Readings

The Benefits of Big Data: How Business Analytics Can Increase Inclusion

What Is Predictive Analytics and Why Is It Important?

Examining the Importance of Business Analytics



Burning Glass Technologies, The Quant Crunch

CIO.com, “6 Data Analytics Success Stories: An Inside Look”

CIO.com, “What Is Business Intelligence? Transforming Data into Business Insights ”

Forbes, “The 18 Best Analytics Tools Every Business Manager Should Know”

Forbes, “The State of Cloud Business Intelligence, 2019”

Forbes, “What You Need to Know About Business Intelligence”

Forbes, “Which Analytics and BI Technologies Will Be the Highest Priority in 2019?”

Gartner, Business Analytics IBM, “What Is Business Intelligence?”

PwC, What’s Next for the Data Science and Analytics Job Market?