Extreme BI

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.

But as more organizations develop mature BI infrastructures and practices, they're learning to push their BI tools to answer questions they never thought they could ask. And they're moving into predictive analytics, where they can analyze historical data to develop ideas about what will happen in the future so they can craft better strategies to cope with what's ahead.

"To be able to drill down, to look for patterns that aren't obvious from the start, that's powerful," says David White, an analyst at research firm Aberdeen Group.

That kind of innovation is enabling organizations to respond to challenges more quickly, effectively and efficiently.

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