business intelligence (BI)

Business intelligence (BI) is a broad category of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help enterprise users make better business decisions. 

BI applications include the activities of decision support systems, query and reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), statistical analysis, forecasting and data mining.

Business intelligence applications can be: 

- Mission-critical and integral to an enterprise's operations or occasional to meet a special requirement 

- Enterprise-wide or local to one division, department

- Centrally initiated or driven by user demand

This term was used as early as September, 1996, when a Gartner Group report said:

By 2000, Information Democracy will emerge in forward-thinking enterprises, with Business Intelligence information and applications available broadly to employees, consultants, customers, suppliers, and the public. The key to thriving in a competitive marketplace is staying ahead of the competition. Making sound business decisions based on accurate and current information takes more than intuition. Data analysis, reporting, and query tools can help business users wade through a sea of data to synthesize valuable information from it - today these tools collectively fall into a category called "Business Intelligence."

While the terms business intelligence and business analytics are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences:

BI vs BA Business Intelligence Business Analytics


Answers the questions:

What happened?



How many?

Why did it happen?

Will it happen again?

What will happen if we change x?

What else does the data tell us that never thought to ask?



Reporting (KPIs, metrics)

Automated Monitoring/Alerting (thresholds)



OLAP (Cubes, Slice & Dice, Drilling)

Ad hoc query

Statistical/Quantitative Analysis

Data Mining

Predictive Modeling

Multivariate Testing

Contributor(s): Luca Rossetti
This was last updated in November 2006
Posted by: Margaret Rouse
View the next item in this Essential Guide: business intelligence dashboard or view the full guide: How to choose manufacturing software for business intelligence

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