Systems theory is one of the main intellectual movements of the 20th century. It arose in response to overspecialization in the sciences as a way to find a more integrated view of knowledge and the world.1 Systems theory attempts to describe and understand the common structure, attributes and emergent properties of all types of systems - physical, biological and social - by viewing them as systems per se rather than an economy or a business or a machine, for example.

A systems theory of business intelligence (BI) would position BI in the context of its surrounding system - the organizational environment in which it operates - and would predict the impact of that context on BI design. This theory would give designers a tool that guides them on what BI technology can do and what it cannot do in a given environment and the risks involved. In this article, I want to develop a general outline of this tool.

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