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What is Business Intelligence Anyway?

by Davin Wilfrid

April 30, 2010

By Davin Wilfrid, ERP Expert

Boris Evelson at Forrester posts a simple, yet important, question on his blog today: What is business intelligence?

It's a thorny issue, he writes. For some people, BI is the technology and processes that turn raw data into usable information. But in order to make sense of that data, it has to be clean, stored efficiently, integrated properly, and delivered through a portal of some sort. So are data management and governance part of BI?

On the other side of the coin, there are those who think of BI as just the presentation layer -- the dashboards and reporting and analytics tools. But even that leaves the door open to a wide range of topics:

But even there, as Jim Kobielus and I discovered as we were preparing to launch our BI TechRadar 2010 research, we could count over 20 (!) product categories such as Advanced Analytics, Analytical Performance Management, Scorecards, BI appliances and BI SaaS, BI specific DBMS, BI Workspaces, Dashboards, Geospatial analytics, Low Latency BI, Metadata Generated BI Apps, Non modeled exploration and In-memory analytics, OLAP, Open Source BI and SaaS BI, Packaged BI Apps, Process / Content Analytics, Production reports and ad-hoc query builders, Search UI for BI, Social Network / Media Analytics, Text analytics, Web Analytics.

The terms of debate get even narrower among some groups, who separ ate "commoditized" BI from leading-edge analytics tools, he says. 

SAP's approach, when it acquired Business Objects in 2008, was to draw a line between where data is stored and how it is presented. Anything that is user-facing is part of the SAP BusinessObjects BI suite. 

"From now on, the term ‘business intelligence’ is going to be clearly associated with SAP BusinessObjects," Dan Kearnan of SAP told me last year. "In the past, BI was associated with NetWeaver BI — which in fact meant the data warehouse, the OLAP engine and the various SAP NetWeaver BI tools. Now we refer to these components separately."

I'm curious to learn how well this approach squares with your own definition of BI.

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