What does the term "Intelligence" originally stand for in "Business Intelligence" ? Does it mean as used in "Artificial Intelligence" or as used in "Intelligence Agency" ?

In other words, does "Business Intelligence" mean: "Acting smart & intelligently in business" or "Gathering data and information about the business" ?

This question was the topic of a debate among some fellows in our data-science team, so I thought to ask about it from other experts. One might say that both meanings are applicable, but I'm asking for the original intended meaning of the word as proposed in the 1980s.

An acceptable answer should definitely cite original references, and personal opinions are not what I'm seeking.


1 Answer 1


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 information.

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:

  1. Auto-abstracting of documents;
  2. Auto-encoding of documents;
  3. 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 System.

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?!

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the informative answer. I will wait a few more days to see if anyone else has anything to add or comment. $\endgroup$ Sep 6, 2015 at 9:42
  • $\begingroup$ Actually I forgot about it! ... Since it seems that no body else has anything to add, so I'm marking this as the answer. $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 19:15
  • $\begingroup$ I'll update if I found some more. Best $\endgroup$ Nov 7, 2015 at 20:43

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