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How is AI unleashing the full potential of BI for SMEs?


Artificial Intelligence, taking over the future of work discussions one headline and one trending topic at a time, has the potential to be as impactful on the world of work as the internet.

Nothing has garnered greater attention or investment in the last 24 months. Globally, the AI market is already worth 200 billion US dollars, but is expected to explode in value to over 1.8 trillion dollars by 2030. From the world’s biggest companies engaging in an AI arms race to the general population using it to respond to job advertisements, plan holiday itineraries and even write dating profiles, the world has become infatuated with AI. 

But what about the impact it is having when driving advances in the lesser-heralded, but equally impactful, Business Intelligence (BI)? While BI isn’t experiencing the same explosion in hype as AI in the last two years, the demand for BI software has been growing steadily for almost a decade.

As demand for it is steadily growing, so too is the technology’s capability; driven, in large part, by the AI that sits within it. But what is it? How does AI level up BI? And how should SMBs tap into it?

What is BI?

BI is the process through which businesses collect, analyse and interpret data, therefore enhancing their ability to make informed decisions. BI gathers data from various sources like a CRM, website, applications and spreadsheets, then transforms it into meaningful – often visual – insights. From identifying market trends and customer behaviour to optimising and enhancing internal processes and forecasting future outcomes, these insights enable business owners to take the guesswork out of their decision-making. 

In the world of BI and business analytics, AI has for some time been a powerful driving force behind-the-scenes. It enables data analysts to extract insights from data – both structured and unstructured – automatically preparing it, and turning it into visual insight. SMBs – whether they realise it or not – are sitting on a wealth of data, but are doing little without it. That’s not because the desire to do so is lacking.

The sheer and incomprehensible scale of data generated by businesses – which increases every second – makes traditional methods of analysis insufficient. Today, though, BI tools are leveraging AI to great effect. By combining advanced analytics techniques with AI, businesses can extract meaningful insights even from large, complex and even disparate datasets. Without AI underpinning this, doing so would take days or, worse still, be an impossibility.

Practical applications to drive growth

While using BI tools to analyse past and present data provides valuable insights into business performance, to truly stay ahead and achieve more sustainable, strategic growth, predictive analytics is essential. Predictive analytics is the process through which BI uses a business’ existing data to forecast trends or performance. 

Imagine, for example, a business has revenue and advertising spending data for the last 12 months and wants to use that to forecast sales for the next quarter. AI-powered BI can rapidly analyse that data, and provide the business owner or decision maker with predicted sales for the upcoming months based on this historical data. If that analysis forecasts a drop in revenue – for example for a seasonal business heading into its typically quieter period – BI can provide insights into what might happen to revenue if they increase their advertising spend by, say, 10% or 20% over the upcoming months.

Through this ‘cause-and-effect’ approach, businesses can tweak variables – like advertising budget, the impact of employing another sales expert or tweaking the cost of their product or service too – and see the projected impact on sales. Through tools like, for example, Zoho Analytics, businesses can collate, prepare and analyse their data to discover these hidden insights. 

That is just one of an almost limitless number of possible growth opportunities that businesses of all sizes, in every industry can wield through AI and BI. Through the same process, businesses can understand which of their marketing channels are driving the best ROI, how to reduce or remove operational bottlenecks, how to improve customer satisfaction and retention, and much more.

For all the understandable hype surrounding AI, when integrated with BI, businesses can make better decisions and plan for the future with confidence. With AI processing and analysing data and turning it into trends and insights, and BI organising and visualising those insights – and crucially, providing the context and interpretation – even the smallest, businesses can unlock deeper and more meaningful insights from their data. 

If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s that the only certainty is uncertainty. There will be challenges and opportunities ahead, especially as economic volatility persists. However, through AI and BI, small businesses can unlock insights and opportunities that would otherwise be missed and turn that into the foresight and insight that is essential for growth. It’s business intelligence, for intelligent businesses. 

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