Business Intelligence: A Historical Perspective

Business Intelligence History

As Business Intelligence technology approaches a turning point in its evolution it is interesting to look back and see how users have always been in the center of major changes concerning BI. The human quest for knowledge as led the BI journey since the 60’s, transforming it from a reporting machine into a real-time analysis tool.

The first steps (60’s)

Business Intelligence as a field has started around 1960, with the first uses of the term “Business Intelligence” (BI) in an articles called “A Business Intelligence System”, by Hans Peter Luhn, an IBM computer scientist.

This was the beginning of a more systematic approach to analyzing business data in order to help decision makers take the most informed decisions. Since then, the term BI has gathered a lot of sub fields like: reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), analytics, data mining, process mining, complex event processing, and more recently: text mining, predictive analytics and prescriptive analytics. Nowadays it comprises several different techniques, all with the same purpose: to analyze data, from different viewpoints.

 

The middle age – Engineers only

The main cornerstone for the BI was the Data Warehousing (DW) field/technique or simply, a data model for answering questions made to the DW in the form of SQL queries.

Setting up a DW takes a lot of resources and specialized engineers to define the data model and to assemble all the queries and reports around it.

It was the middle age for the BI, where the first efficient tools for analyzing data were available. But there was a drawback, it takes a lot of technicians and expensive (and complex) software tools.

 

Early 00’s – Opening the door to power users

One of the major problems with traditional BI tools (from the middle age) is the lack of response to a changing business that needs up to date and evolving reports and dashboards. In order to keep up with the growing demand of more flexible and more productive tools when it comes to create new reports and dashboards, a new field has emerged: Agile-BI.

More or less a decade ago, a set of new tools lighter than the traditional BI tools came to market, and guess what? Yes, they have since then emerged has the new state of the art in the BI tools, with the big BI traditional players following this trend (some too late to hold on to their old market share).

But this new trend has an Achilles heel: they still need technicians to create the new reports and dashboards that the business needs (and even more than before).

 

Going the last mile – Data for everyone

The latest Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platform (for 2015) from Gartner says: “A wider range of business users are demanding access to interactive styles of analytics, without requiring them to have IT or data science skills.”.

It is clear that there is a need for a new breath of BI tools that really can ‘talk’ with the business users. A new type of BI tools that allows the business users to ask questions in natural language (or a google-like query language) and get their results right away, without being weeks or months waiting for the new reports and dashboards getting back from the IT or BI department. A set of tools that really makes a business going from: a company with a BI department, to a company that is really data-driven and where everyone can make decisions based on real data.

As Steve Rimar in the InformationWeek 2015 Analytics and BI Survey has put it: “I always tell people that the future of BI is Google; it’s a text box where you put questions in and get answers.”. That is my vision also and it is already becoming a reality.

 

 

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