What Is Business Intelligence? With Manchester's Experts

As Manchester’s tech scene continues to boom, we talk to three experts at the forefront of business intelligence in our city. Guillaume Lecouteux from Greenergy, Daniel Millard from MediaCom, and Dami Awobajo from Oldham Council share their insights into BI with AMAGAZINE.

To the person on the street, what is business intelligence? 

Daniel: I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve tried to explain this to my fiancé without realising he doesn’t hold quite the same excitement for data as I do – so I’ll keep it snappy! To me, BI is the art of merging and analysing countless streams of data to measure the effectiveness of ‘something’. Whether it’s a service, a project, a campaign or an entire business, it’s so much more than just producing spreadsheets of numbers (which is genuinely what my friends and family think I do every day; they call me a transpondster!). The sole purpose of any BI function is to provide detailed insight which can then be used to drive action and impact the day to day, as well as keeping a focused eye on the bigger picture.

Dami: It is the art of turning anything that can be measured into meaningful information that serves a purpose.

How do businesses benefit from using BI?

Guillaume: With the increasing profusion of internal and external data, it can be really difficult to get any insight into what is going on inside or outside of an organisation. Business intelligence is a set of concepts, processes and tools to support, measure, visualise, distribute and analyse business indicators relevant to a business, a market or an organisation.  

Dami: From my perspective, it takes out guesswork about how to provide great services for the residents of Oldham, it identifies new and more efficient ways of doing things and it allows us to know how well we are doing as an organisation and how well we are serving the residents of Oldham.

Daniel: It still surprises me how so many businesses today don’t understand their own data and don’t see it as an asset. I’ve worked with several companies over the years who either had very little or no BI and were sitting on mountains of data they didn’t know what to do with. BI does so much more than just report the facts! When done right, it highlights the problems and tells you what you need to do to fix them. Once a business understands the true value of what they are sitting on, it becomes transformative.

What is the role of business intelligence in your organisation? 

Guillaume: The core idea of our business intelligence function in the company is to improve the way departments and the business as a whole measure and report their performance.

Daniel: As a media agency, we are becoming more and more data-driven every day. We use data and BI in almost all areas of our business, from campaign optimisation, econometrics and quantitative research, to developing visually engaging client dashboards and machine learning neural networks. The purpose of our BI function is to engage our people and our clients in data, measure the effectiveness of everything we do and drive efficiencies across the business, both financially and productively.

Dami: Here in Oldham – it is central. We take evidence-based decisions informed by business intelligence – you can see that in how it has informed our thriving communities work.

What insights does BI allow you to understand about your residents and how is this useful?

Daniel: Some of the key things it helps us understand is how efficient and productive we are at whatever it is we’re doing. For example, if we’re running a new advertising campaign for a client, BI can help us understand if we’re using the right media channels at the right time, if we’ve got our TV spots in the right place, even down to how effective a specific piece of creative has been. Having this level of detail allows us to make real-time adjustments to campaigns to reach wider audiences in the most optimum ways. From an inward-looking perspective, BI is invaluable as a performance management tool. Helping us understand our people, their strengths and weaknesses, where we can support them to improve and drive further efficiency for the business.

Guillaume: Our BI platform helps to assess and improve our business model by assessing customers’ data such as sales. 

Dami: The insights allows us to understand the aspirations of residents, their needs and what they want in their communities. That is really useful for an organisation like ours, which delivers such a wide range of services, to know and understand.

Why is business intelligence important for the growth of Manchester?

Daniel: When I first moved to Manchester from a small town in Cumbria nearly seven years ago, I worked as an analyst for a well-known health brand and then spent the following years working my way across the city, being lucky enough to work for several organisations in varying states of BI development. This really allowed me to hone my skills and learn from my mistakes, subconsciously preparing me for the position I hold with MediaCom today.

None of that would have been possible without Manchesters commitment to the creative and digital space, encouraging businesses to think about data and BI and attracting some big players in the data space. BI has evolved so much in the last decade and it will continue to transform as we develop new technologies and methods, so it is hugely important that Manchester continues to be a leader and drives the BI journey from the front.

Dami: Having meaningful information that serves a purpose is vital to Greater Manchester. It allows us all to plan for population growth, continue to develop an inclusive economy and design public services that support all our residents.

Guillaume: It’s important for Manchesters businesses to help identify their strengths and weaknesses against the competition and differentiate themselves.

In what ways does Manchester need to invest in BI?

Dami: The region as a whole needs to continue to invest in the digital economy, continue to invest in smart infrastructure and drive forward platform interoperability.

Daniel: A big (and obvious) piece of investment for me would be in BI apprenticeships. A lot of people either don’t know what BI is or assume you need a degree to even think about working in BI which just isn’t true. I left school with a handful of GCSEs, my working-class circumstances meant I didn’t get the opportunity to go to university (which surprises a lot of people!), but it also meant that I started working a lot sooner than most people and quickly amassed a lot of experience and up-skilled myself whenever I could. I was lucky because analytics was relatively new, but I don’t think many could follow my path today. Apprenticeships would attract more people into this field who may not be naturally academic, you just need a love for data and a passion to want to make things better!

The big sticking point in advancing BI is the sharing of data. Obviously, we are living in a post-GDPR world where this may now be more difficult but getting the most out of data means working collaboratively – having some sort of intra-city BI think-tank or working group could potentially help to pull down some of the barriers and certainly get people thinking about the ‘big data’ picture.

What’s the future of BI in Manchester?

Dami: The future of BI in Greater Manchester will be more predictive analytics and the increasing use of machine learning to inform ever more complex decisions. An exciting future!

Daniel: I genuinely believe this is just the start of great things for Manchesters BI space. Thinking about my own experiences over the last few years, even though many businesses are starting to ‘get it’, I think there is still a long way to go before there’s a standardised approach that companies big and small are using to measure their day to day activities.

Manchester is already leading the way, especially in the North, but I think there is a lot more we can do to push us forward. Some of that will come from educating businesses and helping them to understand their data, but a lot of it will come from creating a new generation of data and BI professionls.

A big part of the future will depend on our ability to work collaboratively and develop new ways of using ‘big data’, I’m not sure exactly how that will look, but I’m excited to be part of the journey!

Guillaume: Manchester could help to raise awareness of BI concepts. The city is an attractive place for talent and I would be glad for business intelligence communities to grow in the area.

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