Business Intelligence vs. Data Discovery – Which is Better?

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Which of these do you think is the correct answer?

  • Business Intelligence
  • Data Discovery
  • Neither
  • It depends, or
  • Both!

With the growth of Data Discovery software in recent years, Gartner is now recommending organizations adopt a ‘bi-modal’ approach which incorporates both.

From my experience, Business Intelligence should form the foundation for most organizations and Data Discovery is the icing on the cake, so to speak.

Business Intelligence and Data Discovery have many similarities however, the differences between them need to be understood and organizations should map their goals and objectives to what each offers in order to ensure the right fit.

Plain Language Definitions

Business Intelligence is the traditional approach to helping people make the right decision based on the right data, at the right time. Traditionally, this has involved the development of a data warehouse and cubes which are used for both structured reporting and ad-hoc analysis. Usually the data sources were internal (i.e. ERP, CRM and other operational systems).

Data Discovery is the new kid on the block. It helps people discover hidden patterns and trends through mashing of different data sources. Typically, a data warehouse is not required, cubes are not leveraged and the structure used to store and model data from disparate sources is proprietary. Most often both internal and external data is being mashed together.


Both technologies promise to make data usable for decision making. The data is also visualized in very similar looking ways.


Business Intelligence is ideal for modelling and answering the questions that you are asking about things that you know. For instance, “How much beer did I sell by location?”

Data Discovery is ideal for uncovering answers to questions that you are not currently asking and about things that you don’t know. For instance, “Does the weather or demographics of an area influence beer sales?”

The essential difference between them can be characterized by considering who typically does the development in each.

In traditional Business Intelligence, IT professionals or developers are required to create and maintain the organizational wide system that has a single version of the truth.

With Data Discovery, anybody who understands the relationships between the data being mashed together can do the development. As one may expect, incorporating external data and mashing it up with internal data is not a perfect science, but it can reveal pearls that would otherwise be unknown. Also, different people may come up with different versions of the truth.

While not an exhaustive summary, the table below highlights some of the key differences between the two approaches.

Business Intelligence


Did you notice that the pros of the one are the cons of the other and vice versa? That is why many organizations will ultimately make use of both Business Intelligence and Data Discovery tools.

In fact, there is a trend towards Enterprise Business Intelligence solutions incorporating both approaches. This is good news for any organization looking to leverage technology to strengthen its competitive advantage.

Next Steps

If this blog piques your interest and you’d like to have a conversation, please contact me. Alternatively, if you’d like to review a Business Intelligence solution that allows your organization to embrace 100% of your data in an affordable and manageable way, we are pleased to offer a high-level review of TARGIT Decision Suite 2015.

For more information, please contact your BDO Client Manager or Les Wright; or view the BDO Planning and Performance Management brochure.

Les Wright
Senior Manager, Business Analytics

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