A “Business Intelligence” (BI) Definition

[read this post on Mr. Fox SQL blog]

Over the years I have presented many times to various clients describing Business Intelligence (BI) solutions using the Microsoft BI solutions stack.

In all of my sessions, regardless of the specific focus, each time I always start with the same 2 content slides.

  • The first is always the positioning graphic from the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence & Analytics.  This shows all top BI vendors and how they are positioned against each other, and is republished yearly (typically in Feb).  This is often a great introduction as to why Microsoft BI is such a great play. If interested an introduction to the paper is here, but you can also find the full report on various web sites (https://www.gartner.com/doc/2989518/magic-quadrant-business-intelligence-analytics)
  • The second is always a definition of exactly what Business Intelligence (BI) actually is, and this is the purpose of this short blog.

And so, lets dig down into a business definition for Business Intelligence!

What is Business Intelligence?  A Definition…

Hunting the web for the general definition pulls up many one liners – and yes I guess everyone who is anyone will have a way to define it, and that definition is (or should) be based on their own experiences with building, deploying or supporting BI solutions.

If you are looking for a nice short collection of some of those definitions – and a further explanation of why you need BI – then this is a great post (http://www.jamesserra.com/archive/2013/03/why-you-need-business-intelligence/)

So given the above, this is a altered definition I have used many times and I think holds true.

Business Intelligence (BI),
in its most basic sense,
is delivering
meaningful, accurate, and timely information
drawn from diverse sources
to support an informed decision making process.

And recent business trends indicate it must be
flexible, fast, fun, collaborative
and at all levels in a business.

(NOTE – Unfortunately I cannot locate the web source of the original base statement, but will reference this once located)

Breaking Down the BI Statement;

  1. Meaningful = BI solutions must deliver content that is relevant to the person consuming it.  If data is not relevant then the BI consumer will simply look elsewhere.
  2. Accurate = BI solutions must deliver content that is accurate / correct based on inputs.  As soon as there is any uncertainty in the delivered content then the BI consumer will lose confidence in the solution and is unlikely to use it.  A BI solution that is not being used is a failure.
  3. Timely = BI solutions must deliver content in a timeframe relevant to the decision process it is meant to support.  If the decision process is hourly, then anything less will be of diminishing value to the BI consumer.
  4. (Meaningful, Accurate, Timely) = In regards to all three of these key words together, this is what I call getting the BI data into a “position and condition ready for use”.
  5. Information = A key word missing (on purpose!) from the BI statement is “data”.  BI solutions are meant to add meaning to data to create information.  Data or visualisation alone is not a BI solution.
  6. Diverse Sources = BI solutions often call on data from various places within and outside the business to create valuable information for BI consumers.  In the current era of the “modern data warehouse” this is absolutely the case, however a BI solution does not necessarily need to have multiple sources as long as what its producing is Meaningful, Accurate and Timely in regards to the end BI consumer and their specific needs.
  7. Informed Decision Making Process = In my view this is the most important part of the whole statement.  Everything in BI should be directed to support a business decision.  In IT we are very good at creating lots of data, reports, visualisations and the like – however if they don’t support the BI consumer decision process then its a failure.  This is why I always tell my clients to NEVER get sold on the “visualisation noise” that a vendor pushes – with every piece of BI content always ask “so what“; so what does this mean, so what do I do with it, so what decision does this support.  If you cannot answer those questions then you are wasting your time.
  8. Flexible = All BI solutions need to be flexible in their approach to content consumption.  The main reason is that as any BI implementation experience will tell you is that BI consumers are often set in doing things a certain way.  If you try to dramatically change that process then you will probably find many “business blockers” to your project.  Therefore if a BI solution is flexible in its approach and interface then there’s more likelihood of adoption and ultimate success.
  9. Fast = This should be a given, and is related to timeliness.  The produced BI content must be delivered quickly to the end consumer relevant to the decision timeframe – but any interactive content must be delivered in seconds.  There is nothing more frustrating to a BI consumer than waiting for an interactive process.
  10. Fun = This may seem unusual, but I have found this to be valid many times over.  To explain this I will use my favorite example; Every week I need to do a timesheet in our corporate SAP system.  I hate it (but yeah OK I understand its necessary and I know it contributes to downstream processes!)  However I spend the least amount of time as possible in that system.  This is NOT the reaction you want to hear from your BI consumers.  You want the BI solution to be engaging, interesting and, well, fun!
  11. Collaborative = It is rare that business decisions are made in isolation – in fact Gartner indicated that decisions made in a silo often leave untapped value on the table.  As such you want your BI solution to have a collaborative element where end consumers can share findings, collate feedback, and ultimately make better business decisions together.
  12. All Levels in a Business = No longer are BI solutions the domain of the C-Level Executive, decisions are made at all levels within a business with the decision process relevant to that job role.  Therefore many BI solutions need to ensure that Meaningful, Accurate and Timely Information finds it way in Flexible and Fun ways to the end consumers within the business – regardless of what level they are.


I hope that you also find this a useful definition!

AND of course, as I always say, please review and update this yourself as your required outcomes may vary!

Disclaimer: all content on Mr. Fox SQL blog is subject to the disclaimer found here

4 thoughts on “A “Business Intelligence” (BI) Definition

  1. Jennifer Mahoney 20 January 2016 / 12:21 AM

    Thanks for posting!!! Could not agree more. I’ve been using a similar definition for a few years now, and will be incorporating the excellent context & advice you give here. This is how I’ve been putting it for a few years now:

    BI is a set of methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies that transfer raw data into meaningful and useful information’.


  2. christianasteves 7 November 2016 / 6:01 PM

    Business Intelligence is a process or set of activities such as extracting the business data from various operational sources, transform, and load the data into consolidated database or data ware house systems.

    That consolidated data should be reported and analyzed to make better decisions in order to improve the organization.


  3. videos 19 April 2019 / 2:27 AM

    very nice post, i certainly love this web site, keep on it


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