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At these organizations, business intelligence means more than generating reports -- it means finding red flags and solving problems.

When it comes to making wine, Matt Wood believes cultivating customers is as complex as cultivating grapes. The success of both endeavors depends on many factors, including the tools used to grow the grapes and the business.

With that in mind, Wood is nurturing his customer base with the help of one the most modern tools available: business intelligence software. He uses BI to understand who buys his company's wines and to predict which customers might switch to other brands, so he can modify his marketing efforts accordingly. "It's really trying to look at people's behavior and get to the insights through the BI tool. That's where the huge opportunity is," says Wood, estate director of Domaine Chandon and Newton Vineyard in Yountville, Calif.

The basic goal of business intelligence is to turn raw data into information. For many businesses, that means using BI tools to transform data into reports and computerized views of past performance -- "rear-view data," as one BI specialist puts it.

Research shows that 65% of managers say their decision windows -- the time they have to get information and make a decision -- are shrinking, says White. In fact, 44% of 293 business leaders that Aberdeen surveyed last year reported that, in order to make more effective decisions, they need actionable information within an hour, in near real time (minutes) or in true real time.

They need to quickly access data and interact with it. And that need is driving the push to put BI tools into the hands of business leaders. As a result, the model of self-service analytics is replacing the traditional BI model of IT-managed reporting, White adds.

"People have to act faster and faster, so we'll see more real-time or close-to-real-time need for data," says White. "People will look to tap more and more into the operational data as it's created, so the visualization of data will continue -- as will the shift to self-service BI."

Working primarily with the Columbus school district, its 118 schools and 50,00 students, Learning Circle's goal is not only to produce reports, but also to ask questions that educators couldn't answer without BI.

Boyd says her team aims to do more than analyze test results. The real innovation, she says, is using BI to identify students who could be headed for trouble based on a collection of indicators that might not raise red flags early enough when observed individually.

To do that, Learning Circle created an application that's designed to identify at-risk children by evaluating data related to academic performance, attendance and discipline.

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