Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Father of BI? Is he having a laugh?!

Computer World are running a story on Howard Dresner, the former Gartner analyst who lays claim to having invented the phrase 'business intelligence'. From the article:

Howard Dresner coined the term "business intelligence" in 1989 while an analyst at research firm Gartner Inc. ... Dresner was seeking a term that would elevate the debate and better define the analysis of quantitative information by a wide variety of users.
I'm sorry, but at best, Dresner re-appropriated the term to rebadge what was then called DSS. H.P. Luhn actually invented the term, not in 1989, but in 1958 in an IBM Journal article called A Business Intelligence System, (vol. 2, no. 4, p.314) that pretty accurately predicts BI systems today. Here's the original definition of Business Intelligence from 1958 (Luhn, 1958, p. 314):
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."
Sods to Howard Dresner and Gartner for claiming to have invented something they didn't, and to the Computer World people for not doing their research. It's interesting to see that Dresner is now redefining BI as "business process management" (from the CW article), something that's a bit removed from the aims of DSS and EIS, and from the sounds of it, Luhn's original definition too.


Peter O'Donnell said...

A quick search of Business Source Premier abstract database - Monash has a subscription - has 162 articles published pre-1989 that use the term "Business Intelligence". No doubt that the term was in widespread use well before Dresner claims it as his, even know a UK based consulting firm - that was a mid size firm doing EIS/DW consulting during the 1980s that was called "Business Intelligence".

Rob Meredith said...

Actually, props should go to Peter on this issue - I was only aware of the earlier use of the BI term from discussions with him, and a paper co-authored by our Centre colleague Ilona Jagielska.

Anonymous said...

That Luhn paper is pretty clear. So how do you suppose it is that Howard Dresner got credit for the term?

Rob Meredith said...

There's probably a couple of factors going on here. The first is the sheer impact that Gartner has on the IT industry: what they say is close to gospel for many IT managers. In some cases it's self-fulfilling stuff (if Gartner say BI is the most important thing on CIOs agendas, then a whole lot of CIOs will be thinking about it whether or not they would have anyway). Not to criticise Gartner's research, but all research has limitations and caveats, and Gartner's (and IDC's etc.) tends to be accepted at face value.

The other is a kind of collective amnesia we have in IT. There's nothing significantly new in BI, other than Web-based clients, that wasn't thought about and implemented in the 1970s and 80s. We've had IT to support managerial decision-making since the 1960s, and the same mistakes are made over and over.

So when someone from Gartner claims an idea or concept as new, people just assume that's correct because, hey, it's Gartner, and it quickly takes on a life of it's own. Combine that with the fact it formed the basis of a marketing campaign to re-invent EIS and DSS (and so was repeated over and over) you end up believing it.

Marc S said...

Replying to this thread even though its old. BI is actually mentioned even earlier that Luhn in the in 1958. The term can be traced back even further as the very first phrasing of Business Intelligence originates in Richard Millar Devens’ ‘Cyclop√¶dia of commercial and business anecdotes’ from 1865. Devens used the term to describe how the banker Sir Henry Furnese gained profit by receiving and acting upon information about his environment before his competitors. “Throughout Holland, Flanders, France, and Germany, he maintained a complete and perfect train of business intelligence. The news of the many battles fought was thus received first by him, and the fall of Namur added to his profits, owing to his early receipt of the news.” (Devens, (1865), p. 210).



Rob Meredith said...

Hi Marc,

Yep, I saw @Doug_Laney's original tweet.

I shot him through a reply with an instance of the term from a book in 1839!