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What Do You Mean When You Say 'BI'?

Amid all the mega deals and consolidation in the greater business intelligence market this year, I'm seeing a lot of bending of terminology and twisting of meanings. I say "greater market" because to some, BI means just query and reporting while others would lump in analytics, dashboards and even scorecards and performance management... To get some idea what the originator of "business intelligence" had in mind when he coined the term way back in 1989, I called up Howard Dresner...
Amid all the mega deals and consolidation in the greater business intelligence market this year, I'm seeing a lot of bending of terminology and twisting of meanings. It's getting downright confusing for existing BI practitioners, let alone the first-time buyers out there.

I used "greater business intelligence market" above because to some, BI means just query and reporting while others would lump in analytics, dashboards and even scorecards and performance management (the last term could spark a terminology debate on its own, but let's not go there just yet). To me, the greater BI market includes all of the above.

To get some idea what the originator of "business intelligence" had in mind when he coined the term way back in 1989, I called up Howard Dresner to talk about terminology."The way I define 'business intelligence' has always been 'end-user access to and analysis of data,'" says the former Gartner analyst, former Hyperion executive and now principal of Dresner Advisory Services. "It was always intended to be an umbrella term. Query, reporting, analytics, data mining, statistical tools, analytics, dashboards - they're all forms of BI."

Talking to BI (that is, "greater BI") vendors about the SAP-Business Objects deal in recent days, it seems some of them are soft-pedaling BI and promoting other terms. SAS, for one, highlights "the power to know" with analytics, and it's quick to distinguish itself from Business Objects.

"Analytics is much more than simple summary statistics or frequency counts," said Jim Davis, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at SAS. "When you get into the real power of analytics, you're talking about predictive analytics, and Business Objects doesn't offer that."

When it comes to BI, Davis derisively says "components like query and reporting are becoming a commodity."

Cognos, on the other hand, is now talking almost exclusively about performance management. "Is BI still relevant?" I asked Mychelle Mollot, vice president of market strategy and strategic communications. "Absolutely," she says, "but to us, you do BI because you're trying to improve a company's performance. We use performance management as an umbrella term, and it includes BI, it includes operational performance management, it includes financial performance management and it includes analytics."

While Dresner gave birth to the term "business intelligence," times have changed, technologies have evolved and the term's current definition is really whatever a majority of people think it means. From Mollot's perspective, too many IT people now tag BI as just query, reporting and maybe dashboards, so Cognos is pushing "performance management" as the new umbrella term "to avoid being misunderstood.

Is "performance management" the industry's new umbrella term? Dresner calls BI "the superstructure" of performance management, pointing out that, "you can have BI without performance management, but you can't have performance management without BI." That said, he agrees that PM pushes beyond BI. "What it adds is modeling capabilities and, more importantly, planning capabilities."

My contention is that most BI practitioners and the vast majority of would-be buyers know and intuitively understand the term "business intelligence." They take the words at their face value, having faith that BI technologies help you gain insight on your customers, your market and your business operations.

My problem with "performance management" is that it's far less recognized and often misunderstood. PM vendors and proponents haven't helped much, with variations including business, corporate, financial, operational, employee, enterprise and strategic performance management. Too often falling short of the strategic principles taught by Doctors Norton and Kaplan, PM in the real world usually gets stuck in the office of finance.

As Editor-in-Chief of this Web site, I have to oversee channels of content (and of interest among our readers) that currently include Business Intelligence, Performance Management, Process Management, Enterprise Applications and Information Management and others, but we have plans to pare down and simplify this list as part of a pending site redesign. Business Intelligence is, hands down, our number-one channel in terms of visitors and page views, so that one stays. As I've written in recent blogs and articles, the two PMs (process management and performance management) are in many ways blending and blurring. These two categories will also remain (and they will be separate - for now), but I'd love to hear comments and opinions on the future direction of business intelligence, performance management and business process management as terms, markets and disciplines.Amid all the mega deals and consolidation in the greater business intelligence market this year, I'm seeing a lot of bending of terminology and twisting of meanings. I say "greater market" because to some, BI means just query and reporting while others would lump in analytics, dashboards and even scorecards and performance management... To get some idea what the originator of "business intelligence" had in mind when he coined the term way back in 1989, I called up Howard Dresner...