Continue in 2 seconds

What's in a Word?

  • September 01 2002, 1:00am EDT

While flying between the coasts the other day, I noticed a new day had dawned in the pages of Business Week. As I leafed through the stories of the management technique du jour, the latest surefire technology, the profiles of the oversized egos and their accompanying oversized compensation packages, something jumped out at me. In full page ad after full page ad, I saw headlines, features or references to business intelligence (BI). I saved the issue and later counted the BI references.

There were seven full-page, full-color ads touting BI. I can't imagine what the full page ad costs are for a national mainstream business publication; however, in any case, it was a tremendous amount of investment and exposure, all dedicated to a market space that was seeking an identity not that long ago.

Just a few years ago, I was invited to meeting after meeting by vendors, conference organizers, press, etc. The discussions at these meetings all centered on where the market was going and what it should be called. There were a variety of phrases bandied about and nominated, but I was always a strong proponent of business intelligence. In my mind, the debate was largely settled when IBM spent untold millions on advertising using the phrase. At that point, I considered it a fait accompli. The industry, however, being loathe to promote another vendor's term, resisted wholesale adoption of the phrase for years. I guess it was an extension of their aversion to mimicking the query and reporting vendor who first used the phrase approximately a decade ago.

The battle is all but over now. Look at the covers of the trade magazines, the ad headlines and body copy, the Web sites, etc. BI rules the day.

While data warehouses are critical infrastructure components of fully mature BI environments, they do not necessarily define the world of information access and distribution. A case in point: I recently volunteered to assist in the founding of a local chapter of a business intelligence association. At one of the organizing meetings I was asked if we needed to include data warehouses in the definition of BI. At first, I was taken aback, as professionally my company designs and implements large-scale BI systems, every one of which includes an operational data store (ODS), data warehouse or data mart type structure. The question seemed at best fanciful and at worst terribly misinformed as to what BI is. As I probed the questioner, it became clear how narrowly focused I had become in my years of building scores of enterprise-class systems for the world's largest companies. In this questioner's world, BI was simply the accessing, analyzing, distribution and communication of information.

The lightbulb went on. Even though I give keynote after keynote defining BI as the intersection of the available information and the needs of the business, I had become too accustomed to seeing that intersection point structured around large-scale technology, architectures and tools. I had lost sight of the fact that the analyst manually gathering data into an Excel spreadsheet and building some analysis is just as much a BI practitioner as I am.

As I listened to the discussion around the table, it became clear that those of us who designed, built and maintained large-scale environments were the minority. The majority of the practicing BI professionals were in medium-sized organizations that didn't have the resources, the time or the money to invest in large-scale solutions.

The market has indeed shifted. We now have a robust and rapidly maturing BI market. It does indeed represent the intersection of the available information and the needs of the business. And it has been, and continues to be, diverse and rapidly democratized. BI doesn't belong to the rich and powerful, as data warehousing did for so long. Even if those of us involved in enterprise-class systems full-time don't want to admit it, the majority of the BI community is practicing at medium-sized organizations and at the department level of larger organizations, building and utilizing systems that may or may not reflect conformance to a formal data warehousing architecture or approach.

While this is, essentially, more of what has always been going on, I believe it is time for our industry to officially recognize this fact. It will never be the case that all or even most BI happens in a formal, architected, methodology-driven environment. While we don't have to endorse or encourage the downside of this reality – that of non-architected data islands – it is our challenge to facilitate and encourage the maximum amount of architecture and integration possible in these diverse, heterogeneous environments. If we bring the broadscale BI community into the tent, we all become stakeholders. Integration, sharing and distribution of key metrics, measures and dimensions will become all that much easier.

Welcome to the new day of BI.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Information Management content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access