The Role of Ethics in Business Intelligence


Business intelligence (BI) refers to a collection of methods, tools, techniques, and approaches that businesses use to acquire and transform data into information that can be analysed and used to improve business processes (Biere, 2003). Technologies applied in BI roles possess the capacity to handle large volumes of unsorted data. They help businesses to develop and create strategies that help in the identification of new opportunities. The major role of BI is to allow companies identify, acquire, and interpret large data volumes in order to provide competitive, market advantage, and enhance sustainability (Vercellis, 2011). Ethics is one of the core issues that organisations have to deal with when implementing business intelligence into their business models. Organisations use BI to improve decision making, cut operation costs, identify new business opportunities, and gain competitive advantage (Biere, 2003). In addition, they use it to identify inefficient business processes that need to be reengineered in order to improve productivity and optimise performance.

Foundation and Capabilities

BI is founded on several key components that include version control and process management, open item management, key performance indicators optimization, real-time reporting, multidimensional aggregation and allocation, group consolidation, and statistical inference (Vercellis, 2011). Business intelligence technologies are widely used to improve business operations and decision making in organisations. Te main functions of BI technologies include data mining, reporting, prescriptive analytics, online analytical processing, business performance management, text mining, process mining, and benchmarking (Biere, 2003). Other functions include predictive analytics, complex event processing, and analytics. Organisations use BI technologies to primarily optimize performance by streamlining operations, improving productivity, and reducing workloads. These outcomes are achieved because of several Bi capabilities that include data analysis and collection, data lineage tracking, infrastructure, cloud deployment, customer service, integration, reporting, dashboard management, intuitive use, and information delivery (Loshin, 2012). Other BI capabilities include predictive analytics and modelling, workflow collaboration, visualisation, interactive data exploration, and benchmarking (Vercellis, 2011).

Role in Supporting Decision Making

BI helps in supporting decision making by facilitating the extraction and transformation of useful facts from large volumes of structured and unstructured data into information that can be used strategically to optimise organisational performance (Loshin, 2012). The information produced by BI technologies is used to make informed strategic decisions, improve effectiveness, and enhance the efficiency of business operations. In addition, BI provides companies with information that allows them to make timely strategic decisions without compromising critical business processes (Howson, 2013). For example, analysis of information gathered from interactions with customers provides useful insight into critical business aspects such as customer preferences, usability of resources such as websites, online customer experiences, and the quality of customer service (Biere, 2003). BI also helps companies make informed decisions because it provides accurate, reliable, and timely information. In that regard, companies are able to measure the performance of their operations and make changes where necessary (Howson, 2013). This is possible because BI provides both historical and current performance information that can be used to predict future trends such as customer behaviour and shifts in market demand. BI supports both strategic and tactical decision-making processes because it collects data from both historical and current business operations (Loshin, 2012).

Ethics in Business Intelligence

Ethics is one of the most important issues to consider when dealing with business intelligence. Key issues include information gathering, information use, and customer privacy. In everyday business operations, employers face the risk of engaging in unethical practices in the decisions they make regarding their customers, competitors, employees, and business processes. In business intelligence, data security, privacy, and integrity are the most critical ethical issues that organisations deal with.

Information gathering

Information gathering is a critical component of BI. The major forms of gathering information include basic intelligence, economic intelligence, and industrial espionage. Basic intelligence is usually gathered through public sources such as newspapers, television, and public records such as financial statements (Howson, 2013). Basic and economic intelligence are ethical because they do not involve the use of any illegal practices. Industrial espionage is unethical because it involves using illegal means to obtain information through practices such as spying, bribery, and surveillance without user consent (Loshin, 2012). It is ethical for organisations to collect information with the consent of their customers. Otherwise, it could lead to dire consequences such as identity theft. Many companies use cookies to capture their customers’ information without their consent. In order to conduct ethical BI, it is important for companies to inform customers of their privacy policies. For instance, some businesses have opt-in models of informed consent that informs customers regarding information collection (Loshin, 2012). It is unethical for businesses to collect information without the consent of their customers. In other cases, some companies use illegal techniques to collect intelligence from their competitors. In 2001, Proctor & Gamble (P&G) agreed to pay a fine of $10 million dollars after it used unethical methods to collect information about their competitor, Unilever (Barnes, 2001). P&G had taken documents from Unilever’s trash cans that contained the company’s confidential marketing and product development plans (Barnes, 2001). According to P&G officials, the company’s agents violated its ethics policies that prohibited the use of such methods to collect information on competitors. The company’s management ensured that the information was not used in marketing or product development. In 2012, Google was charged for illegal data collection using its illegal ‘wi-spy” programme (Newman, 2013). In 2013, it paid a fine of $22.5 million for using cookies to illegally collect the personal information of unsuspecting Safari web browser users (Newman, 2013).

Information use

Businesses should only use information to optimize performance and not for other purposes. Unethical use of data such as sale and involuntary release of personal information should be discouraged. Such practices lead to theft of sensitive personal information such as security numbers, passwords, and credit card numbers (Howson, 2013). Governments collect individuals’ information in order to enhance national security. It matters how that information is used to ensure that the privacy of people is not compromised. Many social networking companies sell the information they gather from their users to big corporations. For example, Facebook knows the family members, education level, relationship status, friends, and employer of its users. When information from different networking sites is brought together and analysed, patterns of people’s lifestyles and actions emerge. These companies use their BI systems to collect data about the preferences, relationships, buying and eating habits, as well as the earnings of their users. Companies such as Google sell data to corporate advertisers who target individuals to either sell them low-quality products or steal their money.


Privacy is the most sensitive issue with regard to the collection and use of information. In the past, many cases of information theft through security breaches have been reported. Outcomes such as identity theft, credit card number theft, and theft of passwords result from poor protection of people’s information. The internet poses numerous challenges regarding persona privacy because fraudsters can easily monitor, capture, and use private information. The proliferation of BI technologies mans that online users are exposed to privacy risks because companies can monitor and capture their online activities and use that information for selfish gains (Loshin, 2012). The existence of the aforementioned ethical issues in BI means that individuals need to embrace new technologies that protect their privacy. For example technologies that involve email encryption, spyware elimination, and anonymous web surfing should be used (Loshin, 2012). The privacy of users is compromised when information is analysed to identify their preferences and habits. In 2012, Google and Facebook were charged with violating the privacy of their users, and agreed to have their privacy policies monitored by a government agency.


It is challenging for governments to create legislation that adequately protects individuals from the unethical practices of companies in regard to the implementation of BI plans. Therefore, it is important for companies to act ethically regarding the collection, analysis, and use of information. It is also critical for individuals to be careful when interacting online. Employers and employees have roles to play in order to make their BI practices ethical. BI is an important strategy that companies can use to improve productivity, optimize performance, and gain competitive advantage in the markets.


Barnes, J. E. (2001). P&G said to agree to pay Unilever $10 million in spying case. Web.

Biere, M. (2003). Business intelligence for the enterprise. New York, NY: Prentice Hall Professional.

Howson, C. (2013). Successful business intelligence: unlock the value of BI and big data. New York, NY: McGraw Hill Professional.

Loshin, D. (2012). Business intelligence: the savvy manager’s guide. New York, NY: Newnes.

Newman, N. (2013). Why Google’s spying on user data is worse than the NSA’s. Web.

Vercellis, C. (2011). Business intelligence: data mining and optimization for decision making. New York, NY: john Wiley & Sons.

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