The purpose of business intelligence (BI), as conceived in the early 1990s, was to give business users direct access to information instead of having to go through the IT department to obtain custom reports or views of information. The idea was to empower business users by allowing them to query a repository of integrated data (i.e., a data warehouse or data mart) and create their own reports. Giving business executives, managers and staff self-service access to information would enable them to avoid the backlog in the IT department and enhance their ability to make decisions, create effective plans, and optimize processes and performance.

In reality, however, self-service BI proved overwhelming for all but the most sophisticated power users. Most users found the original query, reporting and analysis tools too complex or time-consuming to use. Because they didn't use the tools extensively, they would forget how to log on or use various functions and features. They often spent too much time looking for the right report among hundreds or got lost in an endless series of drill-downs and dimension lists. As a result, BI tools replaced the IT department as the major barrier between users and the information they needed to make sound, timely decisions.

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