Howard Dresner, in 1989, is believed to have coined the term "business intelligence", to describe "concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems.". When he was at Gartner Group. This is a common mantra, spread over the Web. I have not been able to trace the exact source for this origin yet. Many insist on he was not at Gartner group in 1989, which is confirmed in the following interview. In his 2008 book, Performance Management Revolution: Improving Results Through Visibility and Actionable Insight, the termed is defined as:
BI is knowledge gained through the access and analysis of business
He says, at the beginning, that
In 1989, for example, I started-some might say incited-the BI
revolution with the premise that all users have a fundamental right to
access information without the help of IT.
No apparent claim of the invention of the term on his side. Indeed, one can find older roots in H. P. Luhn, A Business Intelligence System, IBM Journal of Research and Development, 1958, Vol. 2, Issue 4, p. 314--319.
Abstract: An automatic system is being developed to disseminate information to the various sections of any industrial, scientific or government organization. This intelligence system will utilize data-processing machines for auto-abstracting and auto-encoding of documents and for creating interest profiles for each of the "action points" in an organization. Both incoming and internally generated documents are automatically abstracted, characterized by a word pattern, and sent automatically to appropriate action points. This paper shows the flexibility of such a system in identifying known information, in finding who needs to know it and in disseminating it efficiently either in abstract form or as a complete document.
The author claims that:
The techniques proposed here to make these things possible are:
- Auto-abstracting of documents;
- Auto-encoding of documents;
- Automatic creation and updating of action-point profiles.
All of these techniques are based on statistical procedures which can
be performed on present-day data processing machines. Together with
proper communication facilities and input-output equipment a
comprehensive system may be assembled to accommodate all information
problems of an organization. We call this a Business Intelligence
He also gives the explanation of the terms "business" and "intelligence":
In this paper, business is a collection of activities carried on for
whatever purpose, be it science, technology, commerce, industry, law,
government, defense, et cetera. The communication facility serving the
conduct of a business (in the broad sense) may be referred to as an
intelligence system. The notion of intelligence is also defined here,
in a more general sense, as "the ability to apprehend the
interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action
towards a desired goal."
So the idea of "linking the facts" is already present in H. P. Luhn paper. To many sources, Howard Dresner has re-invented "Business Intelligence" to re-brand decision support system (DSS) and executive information system (EIS) when at DEC, and the term became famous throught the influence of the Gartner group.
Apparently, the term has already been used way before, as in the book Wholesale Business Intelligence and Southern and Western Merchants' Pocket Directory to the Principal Mercantile Houses in the City of Philadelphia, for the Year 1839.
As I could not fetch this source, I will stick to the Luhn/Dresner acception. It relates to the etymology of intelligence:
late 14c., "faculty of understanding," from Old French intelligence
(12c.), from Latin intelligentia, intellegentia "understanding, power
of discerning; art, skill, taste," from intelligentem (nominative
intelligens) "discerning," present participle of intelligere "to
understand, comprehend," from inter- "between" (see inter-) + legere
"choose, pick out
In Business Intelligence for Dummies (Scheps, 2008), the definition chapter plays on Military Intelligence:
Business Intelligence Defined: No CIA Experience Required So what the
heck is business intelligence, anyway? In essence, BI is any activity,
tool, or process used to obtain the best information to support the
process of making decisions.
For our purposes, BI revolves around putting computing power (highly
specialized software in concert with other more common technology
assets) to work, to help make the best choices for your organization.
Business intelligence is essentially timely, accurate, high-value, and
actionable business insights, and the work processes and technologies
used to obtain them.
I would thus bend toward "Gathering data and information about the business", maybe more "to better conduct business". Additional historical comments can be found in Father of BI? Is he having a laugh?!