Business Intelligence Basics

Multi-modal means of analyzing data can produce actionable results.

School systems face many decisions in developing and maintaining learning environments that create success for all students. From district operations to the classroom, we implement solutions and take action based on the information we have at hand. While there is no shortage of data, turning that data into useful information is as much an art as it is a science. Sophisticated and useful business intelligence tools that can aid in decision-making and change are now accessible to district leaders to help with this process.

Intelligence Defined

According to Wikipedia, business intelligence "refers to technologies, applications, and practices for the collection, integration, analysis, and presentation of business information and also sometimes to the information itself." Accessing data from data warehouses, data marts or existing databases, business intelligence (BI) systems allow districts to see their data from historical, current and predictive viewpoints through a variety of analyses and reports. This multi-modal means of analyzing data can include simple querying and reporting tools, data visualizations, interactive tools such as pivot tables or online analytical processing methods (OLAP) as well as sophisticated data mining methods. Digital dashboards of key performance indicators (KPI) are another example of business intelligence applications. One key difference for business intelligence systems from other analysis and reporting applications is its analytic functions.


Business intelligence tools help us answer the "why" or "how can we" questions of our data. For example, enterprise resource planning systems (ERP) or student information systems (SIS) often answer our questions regarding the current or historical status of events and data. For example, "How many students did not pass the state assessment in grade four in reading last year?" Business intelligence systems provide the next level of analysis to examine predictions of future levels of performance or explanations of the factors that contributed to the outcome. In this sense, the focus of a business intelligence system would be to ask, "How many more days of instruction would have helped these students’ performance and in what particular curriculum goals or objectives? Analytic techniques such as optimization, forecasting and advanced statistical analyses are common components of these systems and move further beyond the actual data to "what-if" scenarios and predictions.

Examples of questions that analytics within business intelligence systems could help address in your district could include:

  • Which students are most at-risk of dropping out?
  • Where should we focus our professional development to help meet our adequate yearly progress (AYP) targets?
  • Why are the number of disciplinary infractions and suspensions spiking in our elementary schools?
  • Can we predict how many more teachers will be needed at each school to manage our student population growth over the next five years?
  • What are the characteristics of the teachers in our district who are likely to remain in our district for more than three years?