The Real Difference Between Reporting and Business Intelligence

Reporting and business intelligence are often used interchangeably but, this ignores the significant gap in utility and purpose that exists between them. The difference between them goes much deeper than shallowness of charts or data correlation. In order to understand how they contrast and compare, the best place to begin is by defining the separate business as well as the end-user needs that each service aims to satisfy.

Reporting and business intelligence serve two difference business needs

The following descriptions are important for one to keep in mind. The distinction between the two types of services – and their benefits to a company – should become easier to understand the more that is known about them.

The different roles of reporting and business intelligence for an organisation should help the distinction become much clearer. Keep the following descriptions in mind:


Reporting provides details and numbers relating to what has happened so far as well as the current status of that thing on a given day. These reports help people do their jobs more effectively or more easily by representing the collected information using standard or well-known formats daily, weekly, monthly, etc.

A report using this method may focus on a single set of data or digital records. For example, a worker in a warehouse will have a report of all orders made to their company and will use that to establish the best course to achieving the business goal of a secure, speedy delivery.

Business Intelligence

A ‘report’ generated using business intelligence procedures provides a much deeper, more informative set of data that is then analysed and interpreted. It helps clarify market dynamics and structures by investigating segments by type, end-user and region which can project the market size and expectations, worldwide. Business intelligence has emerged as an important and revealing analytic tool for businesses; affording them the opportunity to make strategic and informed decisions more easily.

These tertiary steps allow for broader and more comprehensive analyses. For example, a combination of customer feedback, shipping performance over time and seasonal variations in demand provide insights that can empower a shipping team to maximise their competitiveness, reliability, customer loyalty and profitability.

Sometimes without knowing it; an organisation of any kind will need parts (or all) of these services in order to make the most informed business decisions possible.

An evolution of methods and needs

Reports often present in a consistent format which allows the user to become familiar with that format and pick up the pertinent information at a glance. This eliminates potential confusion or wasted time and effort spent negotiating a new format or new data.

Nevertheless, analytics services and reporting methods must evolve, along with inevitably changing market conditions and business requirements. In order to meet these new demands; modifications, extensions and new report styles may be needed. A common shortcoming of standard reporting tools is that the formats used to present information are often limited to predetermined templates. The burden (of an unsatisfactory format to a user) will, usually, fall on the shoulders of an IT department, to design a new report format. This can holdup an IT department and cause needless expenses, hampering the potential benefits of the data.

Contrasted with business intelligence procedures that are designed to be agile and flexible; able to adapt to the user’s needs. These tools analyse and organise new sources of business data to provide actionable and comprehensive insights. This could still require an IT specialist to use but, with these advancing technologies becoming more user friendly, business intelligence applications offer meaningful insights and operational indicators to non-technical users too.

Unlike traditional reporting tools, business intelligence software has kept up with the ongoing saturation of internet and digital data and met the growing need to manage and utilise it, effectively. Business intelligence aims to make performing all tasks simpler and faster for the builders and analysts who make use of the data. Offering a single platform that serves all data professionals from engineers to market researchers.

Overlaps in tools and technology

The choices of report style, the flexibility of the tools involved and, even, the analytical aptitude found in these operational systems, are improving and widening every day. These kinds of enhancements can be a result of embedded reporting or embedding business intelligence applications (or “widgets”) into the operational system.

In a similar note, business intelligence systems are focused on becoming more interactive; with end-users getting real-time updates and being able to utilise the intuitive, flexible reporting possibilities. Although the end-user experiences and needs change, the technological gap between reporting and business intelligence tools is shrinking, as each process still require similar collections of data.

Reporting technology can be used, congruently, in a sophisticated business intelligence software that can provide a user with today’s report as well as use that analysed information to make data-driven, optimised business decisions. With customisation and user options going far beyond colour changes and font sizes, developers adapt or create their perfect platform; turning widgets into apps and designing data presentation formats that are just the tip of the iceberg.

How to use these tools

Reporting tools, for the most part, are designed to help frontline operational staff and others perform their duties with any delays between production requirements and operational action becoming almost non-existent. Business intelligence tools are similar in that they are designed, especially, for use by business people who can interpret insights and translate them into business opportunities.

If you have tried a reporting tool, without business intelligence capabilities before, you are placing limitations on the information you could gather and business developments you could make. Rather than trying to force different information and formats to work together; it may benefit you to choose a more comprehensive, modern and multi-cloud data analytics platform that covers the process from raw data to business insights to actionable ideas like business intelligence software.