Business Intelligence

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Definition: Business Intelligence

Business Intelligence

Full Definition of Business Intelligence

The term business intelligence (BI) refers to technologies, applications and practices for the collection, integration, analysis, and presentation of business information and also sometimes to the information itself. The purpose of business intelligence is to support better business decision making. It dates to 1958.

D. J. Power explains in “A Brief History of Decision Support Systems,” BI describes a set of concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems. BI is sometimes used interchangeably with briefing books, report and query tools and executive information systems. Business Intelligence systems are data-driven DSS.

BI systems provide historical, current, and predictive views of business operations, most often using data that has been gathered into a data warehouse or a data mart and occasionally working from operational data. Software elements support reporting, interactive “slice-and-dice” pivot-table analyses, visualization, and statistical data mining. Applications tackle sales, production, financial, and many other sources of business data for purposes that include, notably, business performance management. Information is often gathered about other companies in the same industry which is known as benchmarking.


Prior to the start of the Information Age in the late 20th century, businesses had to collect data from non-automated sources. Businesses then lacked the computing resources to properly analyze the data, and as a result, companies often made business decisions primarily on the basis of intuition.

As businesses started automating more and more systems, more and more data became available. However, collection remained a challenge due to a lack of infrastructure for data exchange or to incompatibilities between systems. Analysis of the data that was gathered and reports on the data sometimes took months to generate. Such reports allowed informed long-term strategic decision-making. However, short-term tactical decision-making continued to rely on intuition.

Thus we have business intelligence, a term and a definition that date to a seminal October 1958 IBM Journal article by Hans Peter Luhn titled A Business Intelligence System.

Luhn wrote,

In this paper, business is a collection of activities carried on for whatever purpose, be it science, technology, commerce, industry, law, government, defense, et cetera. The communication facility serving the conduct of a business (in the broad sense) may be referred to as an intelligence system. The notion of intelligence is also defined here, in a more general sense, as “the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal.”

In modern businesses, increasing standards, automation, and technologies have led to vast amounts of data becoming available. Data warehouse technologies have set up repositories to store these data. Improved Extract, transform, load (ETL) and even recently Enterprise Application Integration tools have increased the speed of collecting the data. OLAP reporting technologies have allowed faster generation of new reports which analyze the data. Business intelligence has now become the art of sifting through large amounts of data, extracting pertinent information, and turning that information into knowledge from which actions can be taken.

Business intelligence software incorporates the ability to mine data, analyze, and report. Some modern BI software allows users to cross-analyze and perform deep data research rapidly for better analysis of sales or performance on an individual, department, or company level. In modern applications of business intelligence software, managers are able to quickly compile reports from data for forecasting, analysis, and business decision-making.

In 1989 Howard Dresner, later a Gartner Group analyst, popularized BI as an umbrella term to describe a set of concepts and methods to improve business decision-making by using fact-based decision support systems.

Key Intelligence Topics

Business intelligence often uses key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess the present state of business and to prescribe a course of action. Examples of KPIs are things such as lead conversion rate (in sales) and inventory turnover (in inventory management). Prior to the widespread adoption of computer and web applications, when information had to be manually input and calculated, performance data was often not available for weeks or months. Recently, banks have tried to make data available at shorter intervals and have reduced delays. The KPI methodology was further expanded with the Chief Performance Officer methodology which incorporated KPIs and root cause analysis into a single methodology.

Businesses that face higher operational/credit risk loading, such as credit card companies and “wealth management” services, often make KPI-related data available weekly. In some cases, companies may even offer a daily analysis of data. This fast pace requires analysts to use IT systems to process this large volume of data.


Currently organizations are starting to see that data and content should not be considered separate aspects of information management, but instead should be managed in an integrated enterprise approach. Enterprise information management brings Business Intelligence and Enterprise Content Management together. Interesting signs in this direction are recent acquisitions by Oracle, SAP, IBM and Hewlett-Packard (HP) in the Business Intelligence Area. IBM, for example, earlier bought a market-leading ECM vendor, Oracle bought Hyperion and HP bought Knightsbridge — a leader in the BI industry.

During late 2007 further consolidation was undertaken with Business Objects (who had acquired Crystal Decisions) being purchased by SAP and Cognos being acquired by IBM. This has lead to a rationalization in the market and the emergence of vendors who sell ERP, BI, Data Management/Transportation and Integration technologies.

Cite Term

To help you cite our definitions in your bibliography, here is the proper citation layout for the three major formatting styles, with all of the relevant information filled in.

Page URL
Modern Language Association (MLA):
Business Intelligence. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd.
January 18, 2022
Chicago Manual of Style (CMS):
Business Intelligence. Payroll & Accounting Heaven Ltd. (accessed: January 18, 2022).
American Psychological Association (APA):
Business Intelligence. Retrieved January 18, 2022
, from website:

Definition Sources

Definitions for Business Intelligence are sourced/syndicated and enhanced from:

  • A Dictionary of Economics (Oxford Quick Reference)
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Accounting
  • Oxford Dictionary Of Business & Management

This glossary post was last updated: 18th April, 2020 | 7 Views.