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War, Data and Storage: The Art of Business Intelligence

Davide Avella,

Many lessons can be applied from Sun Tzu's Art of War, especially in business and the use of business intelligence.

Historians may not collectively agree, but if we looked through the personal belongings of Napoleon, Mao Zedong or the General MacArthur, we may find a little book written centuries ago in China: "The Art of War" by the Chinese general and philosopher Sun Tzu. It's a book that has marked the military strategy in Europe and worldwide.

We may never know who among the three could have been his favourite however, one among them became particularly famous, being quoted in many books on economics, problem solving and game theory saying, "If you know your enemy and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemy but know yourself, you win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemy and do not know yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle."

Sun Tzu's message, spoken through his disciple, is clear: take any strategic decision necessary to precisely reconstruct your environment, control the variables and analyze the surrounding environment from as many angles as your creativity permits.

Today, the exponential growth of data and metadata, the affirmation of Big Data, the emergence of new paradigms is becoming more and more about managing the problem of "knowing oneself". Basically, the aim now is to really understand what information is useful and which are unnecessary while also systematizing data collection processes and their manipulation. The art of business intelligence is born here. (To learn about how Business Intelligence fits perfectly for the retail industry, download our free guide, Business Intelligence in Retail)

Most companies store thousands of managed data from diverse relational database management systems (DBMS), architectures and languages such as SQL Server, Oracle, PostgreSQL, MS Access, just to name a few. However, these technologies are only designed and built to optimize the insertion processes and keep records updated, not to extract knowledge and make them available to decision makers. The widespread use of non-relational databases further complicates easy access to data. It's no wonder then that spreadsheets have spread like wildfire on office desktops just to have more information available. This unfortunately has lead to more duplicated, non-validated and inaccurate data.

Such fragmentated storage of data obviously limits the monitoring of activities. They take a lot of work, use a lot of resources, and they are inefficient most of the time. To address these, we usually rely on statistical reports. But even then, they are unable to provide decision makers with the knowledge they need to "know the same chances of winning and losing" - quoting again Sun Tzu.

Kung Fu Panda_Business Intelligence.gif

Now imagine that we have a warehouse, a place to store information along with a customized and constantly updated chart about the organization's needs. Access is simple, straightforward and the data is available at any time. Wouldn't that be just perfect? Well, in fact Business Intelligence is built right around this concept - the datawarehouse. The term Business Intelligence is part of what linguists usually call "umbrella". It's basically a series of concepts related to each other, through with slight differences.

When we talk about Business Intelligence, we talk about a system capable of safeguarding information assets of an enterprise with methods, processes and technologies: data from different sources are stored in a specially constructed database, the data warehouse. Calculations and aggregations later transform and analyze information to support operational and strategic decisions. At this point you can build static reports, dynamic or interactive dashboards (reporting); build OLAP analysis that allow you to browse data from a multidimensional point of view; imagine future scenarios through WHAT-IF simulations based on past data, and finally when exceeding the limit of queries; leverage Data Mining techniques to extract hidden associations between data.

As you can see, by implementing a Business Intelligence system, you can take more informed decisions that can also lead to the discovery of new opportunities for the resources you already have available. It's also easier to track and analyze key performance indicators and compare them with business objectives and your corporate goals. Finally, you can simplify the way information is shared to quickly align all business areas, resulting in increased performance.

If great businesses should learn from Sun Tzu's Art of War, then surely, the use of business intelligence is the same as knowing yourself and your enemy

In the end, we just have to ask ourselves whether Business Intelligence can be a useful tool for winning the battle. Without a doubt it allows us to prepare for the best. And in this aspect, Sun Tzu had no doubts: "Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win."

Get an in-depth understanding of Business Intelligence. Download our free Business Intelligence in Retail guide now!

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