Building a Foundation: Essential Business Intelligence Reports for Emerging Data Teams

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In today’s fast-paced business world, data-driven decision making is not just a luxury, but a necessity. Business Intelligence (BI) plays a crucial role in this process, providing the tools and frameworks required to transform raw data into actionable insights. If you’re a new BI leader tasked with establishing a BI function at a small, growing company, you might be wondering where to start. That’s where business intelligence reports come in.

What are BI Reports and Why are they Important?

BI reports are structured, living resources that present data analysis findings, making it easier for decision-makers to understand complex data. They are essential for guiding data-driven decision-making processes, helping companies improve their metrics and business outcomes.

They provide real-time insight into business operations, uncover patterns and trends in data, identify bottlenecks in workflows, and offer recommendations for improvements. But these reports need to be well-designed, accurate, and pertinent to the business’s specific needs. Otherwise, they might just add to the noise, only adding to the confusion and hindering effective decision-making.

Choosing the first BI Reports to Build

When starting a BI program, it can be overwhelming to decide which reports to build first. The specific reports will depend on the industry and the company’s unique needs, here’s how we recommend deciding on where to start:

  • Start with internally “high-value” reports that can significantly impact various aspects of the business.

  • Consider meeting with different department heads to identify the most pressing data needs and associated reports.

  • Pick your top 2-3 most important internal customers to start with. Focus on providing them with reports that answer their pressing questions, assist in decision-making, and bring value to their operations.

  • Build on existing data. Leverage the information that is readily available and well-understood within the business.

  • Prioritize reports that cater to pressing business issues and can drive substantial business improvements. Your early reports should be closely aligned with your business’s strategic goals and broader growth strategy.

  • Dive into the creation process. The construction of a report involves gathering data, analyzing it, and presenting the results in a digestible manner. Always ask: who is the report for, what decisions will it support, and how can it be made easily understandable for its audience.

  • Ask yourself how your internal customers will access this information. Are there ways you can streamline this process to make it more convenient for them?

  • Consider adopting an iterative approach. Don’t aim for perfection with your first reports. Instead, focus on generating value, learning, and improving with each iteration. This will allow you to adapt to the ever-changing needs of your business, and continuously enhance your BI capabilities.

Maintain a consistent practice for 45 days and you’ll establish strong relationships with stakeholders and a keen insight into your business’s data needs. This steady, iterative process sets a sturdy groundwork for your Business Intelligence (BI) program. More importantly, it lends itself to a dynamic refinement of your reports, fostering constant improvement as it responds to feedback and adapts to the fluctuating needs of your business.

How to Effectively Prioritize Your BI Reports

Prioritizing your BI reports is a crucial step in launching a successful BI program. To do this effectively, consider factors such as the data availability, the complexity of the reports, and the potential impact on decision-making.

Here’s how you can prioritize them:

  • Identify the most impactful reports. Consider the potential of each report to improve decision-making and drive business improvements, and prioritize those with the highest potential impact.

  • Evaluate the complexity of the reports. While more complex reports might offer more detailed insights, they might also take more time and resources to build. A balance between complexity and practicality needs to be found. Statements delivering the most critical data for decision-making in a timely and convenient manner should be prioritized.

  • Consider the availability of data. You might want to prioritize reports for which data is readily available. This not only speeds up the report creation process but also reduces the potential for errors and inaccuracies.

Best BI Dashboards and How to Use Them

BI dashboards are interactive tools that visualize data and allow users to drill down into specific metrics. While your skills and approach matter more then tools, let’s explore some of the best BI dashboards and provide tips on how to use them effectively.

The BI tools that are frequently recognized for their robust features and user-friendly interfaces include Tableau, Power BI, Looker, QlikSense, and Sisense. When using these dashboards, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Start with the tools you’re most familiar with, especially if they have all the necessary features and functionalities that you require. Being familiar with a certain tool will speed up the process of creating a dashboard as you already know the interface and functionalities of the tool.

  • When you’re exploring new tools, it’s a great idea to include some of your regular users in the process. Watching their user experience can give you a well-rounded understanding of whether the tools you build will be adopted or reviled.

  • Design the dashboard layout effectively. The design of your dashboard should facilitate an easy understanding of the data. Ensure important metrics stand out and related metrics are grouped together.

  • Customize based on users’ needs. Different users might require different data. Therefore, try to customize your dashboard based on the specific needs of the individual users.

  • Ensure the dashboard is interactive and user-friendly. Complicated, static dashboards often confuse users. Aim for interactive dashboards with drill-down options for a better user experience.

But, seriously: It doesn’t matter what tools or services you use

The tools or services you use for your BI program are important, but not as important as your understanding of the business and your commitment to delivering the information your internal customers need.

Our ultimate guide as data professionals is to furnish the necessary tools that facilitate the generation of a data-driven culture. When you make it easy to make better decisions, you drive the outcomes you want.

At Unsupervised, our mission is to help people make better decisions. We include recommended actions and measure the potential impact of that on every AI-generated insight — it makes it easier for users to make good decisions.

While tools can expedite the process, the primary determinant of a significant return on investment (ROI) from your data is the collective cultural mindset, goal-oriented focus, and data proficiency that you and your team bring to the task.


Starting a BI program can be a daunting task, but with the right guidance and tools, it’s an achievable goal. If you’ve been tasked with building out a BI program at your organization, you can be sure that you’re doing important work that could fundamentally improve how your company operates.

Start by building the most impactful reports first, watch how your team uses dashboards and iteratively help them improve, and always keep the needs of your internal customers in mind.

Once you’re up and running, drop us a line and let us know how it went. If you have any tips from your experience, we’d love to update this article with them!

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