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What is business intelligence? Business cleverness (BI) is often seen as a term comparable to military or competitive cleverness. And therefore, the presumed purpose of BI is to gather and offer information to help managers make more “intelligent” decisions. This interpretation of the word may be befitting describing the activities of a staff group tasked with gathering information, e.g., a business-intelligence unit, but it works less well for explaining IS/IT systems and applications.

Information Systems suppliers and analysts have a tendency to use the word for a group of software tools that can be used to extract and analyze data from corporate and business databases. The most commonly used business intelligence software is known as a “query and reporting” tool. Also, business cleverness is a term that some financial analysts and commentators use for categorizing a small band of software vendors and their products. Several commentators identify the next companies as major BI tool suppliers: SAP/Business Objects, IBM-Cognos, Oracle-Hyperion, SAS, and MicroStrategy. Many acquisitions have happened since 2002 of BI tool vendors.

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From a historical perspective, business cleverness is a popularized, umbrella term launched by Howard Dresner of the Gartner Group in 1989 to describe a set of concepts and solutions to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems. In the first 1990s, the word was used interchangeably with briefing books and professional information systems sometimes.

Seth Grimes (2007) notes the first description of business cleverness (BI) was within an October 1958 IBM Journal article. SDG Computing categorizes three types of tools as Business Intelligence Tools: 1. Multidimensional Analysis; 2. Query Tools; and 3. Data Mining Tools. Many observers wouldn’t normally include data mining tools as BI tools. Well, a lot for agreement on this is of the word Business Intelligence and related conditions like Business Intelligence Tools. Microsoft also sells Excel, PerformancePoint Server 2007, and SQL Server with Pivot tables as BI products.

IDC acknowledged Microsoft among the fastest-growing BI vendors in 2006. What do some of the major BI vendors say about their BI services and products? SAP/Business Objects claims it is the world’s leading provider of business intelligence (BI) solutions. IBM-Cognos claims it is the leading provider of business-business cleverness solutions. Cognos identifies business intelligence as “a group of applications and systems for gathering, storing, analyzing, reporting on, and providing usage of data to help enterprise users make smarter business decisions”. Oracle-Hyperion is put as “a global leader in business intelligence software”.

It creates solutions that help businesses measure performance and drive success. Hyperion markets a data-source product called Essbase and financial analysis, performance management, and eCRM evaluation solutions. Finally, the MicroStrategy website notes the business helps “corporations change their functional data into actionable information”. MicroStrategy’s Business Intelligence platform helps meet query, confirming, and advanced analytical needs. Exactly, what does all of this mean to IS/IT staff and business managers? Confusion and “hype” especially with all the new entrants claiming to provide BI software and tools.

Broadening the Business Intelligence umbrella is continuing and is increasing the conceptual misunderstandings. For instance, LexisNexis and iPhrase are partnering to deliver Business Intelligence solutions based on documents in the LexisNexis Advertising Red Books directories. Richard Hackathorn, a pioneer in neuro-scientific Decision Support Systems, acquired some responses about Business Intelligence in the November 2001 DM Review. Hackathorn reminds us that information itself is pure overhead which it provides no direct value to a business. That today the problem is making BI actionable He says. He argues, “If your BI projects aren’t changing the way that you do business, then they shouldn’t be considered BI”.