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Understanding (and Applying) the Styles of BI - Part 1

Last week, we wrote about how various styles of BI can be used in our post “Business Intelligence Strategy: Clarify the Value Proposition” and mentioned drilling down more deeply into styles of BI in an upcoming post. As it turns out, it’s pretty hard to dig “just a little” deeply, and as such we’re going to be breaking down the styles of BI into several posts. If you’re a BI expert, this will probably be a refresher/old news to you. If, however, you’re working with users/executives for whom BI is new, this may be a great primer for them — providing context for what BI is, and what it can do.

Understanding BI Through the Seven Styles

A key component of business intelligence (BI) requirements is understanding how users want to interact with information and have it presented to them.  This aspect of BI commonly is called “styles of BI;” DecisionPath uses a taxonomy composed of these seven styles:

  • Scorecards and dashboards
  • Reporting
  • Ad-hoc query
  • OLAP (slice & dice)
  • Advanced analytics
  • Predictive analytics
  • Activity/event monitoring and alerts

This taxonomy maps well to BI software tools: generally, there are BI software tools or a module in a BI software vendor’s product suite optimized for each style.  But the BI styles are important for more than just software tool selection.  The BI style represents a critical element of how the user thinks about the business problem he/she is working to solve.  The better we understand the user’s thought process as he/she interacts with the information BI provides, the more effectively we can serve that user.

The BI Styles Explained

Before we can choose which BI style(s) are right for which users, we must understand each style and for what types of problems it is appropriate.

Scorecards and dashboards

Scorecards and dashboards both are visual display mechanisms that display critical performance information at a glance, often with graphic elements like charts, the red/yellow/green stoplight metaphor, and more.  BI purists differentiate between them by saying that scorecards:

Are a performance management tool that compares strategic goals with results

Are a top-down tool for management to implement strategy by comparing performance with goals

  • Typically embody a performance management methodology like the Balanced Scorecard, Six Sigma, or others
  • Measure quality of execution
  • Usually are periodic (monthly or quarterly)
  • Typically are used by executives
  • Sometimes are automatically generated, but often are manually compiled

while dashboards:

  • Provide information on the current status of business operations
  • Often are near-real-time
  • Typically are used by front-line workers and lower-level managers
  • Virtually always are system-generated

A scorecard or a dashboard is an appropriate BI style when the user wants highly-summarized information to consume at-a-glance.  The visual display elements (graphs, maps, red/yellow/green stoplight metaphor, and so on) should highlight exceptions, anomalies, and items of interest – anything that we want the user to quickly notice and pay attention to.  The user might want to see the underlying detailed data about those things, and scorecards and dashboards typically allow him/her to drill down into it.

Below are two examples; first  of a scorecard and second of a dashboard.  Notice that it uses the balanced scorecard framework.

BI Scorecard

BI Scorecard (click to enlarge)

BI Dashboard

BI Dashboard (click to enlarge)

Examples of Scorecard & Dashboard software tools

  • Microstrategy
  • Business Objects Xcelsius
  • Microsoft PerformancePoint Server (now absorbed into SharePoint)

At one time there were several pure-play scorecard or dashboard software products.  Now, these functionalities are embedded in most mainstream BI tools.


Reporting is the oldest and most traditional form of information presentation and delivery; its ancestor is mainframe “green bar” printed reports.  Reporting can include:

  • Static reports pushed to users (example: a PDF attached to an e-mail)
  • Parameterized reports run on-request by individual users; the parameters enable user-selected sorting, filtering, etc.
  • Recurring spreadsheets, updated on a periodic schedule
  • Other similar relatively-static information presentation distributed via a variety of methods, either according to a schedule or on-request

Below is an example of a report.  As is typical for a report, the information is presented as a table of numbers; no graphical elements are used.


Report (click to enlarge)

Examples of Reporting Software Tools

  • Crystal Reports
  • Actuate e.Reports
  • Microsoft SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS)

Next Up: More Styles of BI

This gives you a sense of what some of the more popular styles of BI are.  For our next post, we’ll take a look at ad-hoc queries, OLAP, and advanced analytics. We’ll finish-off the series looking at predictive analytics and activity/event monitoring.

Editor’s note: since we’ve published this, we’ve received a few requests to consolidate to a single post, as such, we’re linking the other two parts to this post below:

by Bill Collins

Created by Matrix Group International, Inc. ®