Business Intelligence (BI) is the Information Technology (IT) craft of integrating data from an array of diverse data sources and presenting it such that we can make decisions based on an all-encompassing view. This is no different from what out brain does. It integrates data from our five physical senses – smell, taste, touch, hearing, and last but certainly not least, sight – into our brain from which we can take actions based on a rich view of what is happening around us. With this integrated data, our brains output decisions on actions that are executed by our bodies, our words, or by subsequent processing in our brains.
BI is as fundamentally different from most other IT applications as religion is from science. That is, BI supports our needs to navigate through a world that is very much a world of imperfect information. In a real sense, all of our "decisions" are based on some level of faith. Whereas most other IT is the automation of well-defined processes which is driven by perfect information, where "faith" is a terrible word. Now, we all know that nothing is perfect, which is why our "normal" IT systems are built with error handling routines and processes. However, these error handling routines are certainly second class systems engaged in those hopefully relatively rare occurance where something isn’t as expected. In BI, uncertainly is indeed the first class system.
BI, on the other hand, is almost literally the brain of an organization. In my previous blog, Putting the ‘I’ Back in BI, I show how the intelligence of a business is part human intelligence and part machine intelligence. To me, BI is the evolving symbiotic (forgive me for using that trite word) partnership between human and machine intelligence. Today, the intelligence of a business is by far human. But as the intelligence of the machine side grows, primarily due to the continued sophistication of BI systems (which today that means the expanded role of Predictive Analytics, tomorrow the expanded role of semantics), the potential and scale of businesses expand dramatically. Intelligence is the ability to operate in a world of imperfect information. Imperfect Information are factors input into our decisions that are not certain (Probability 1).
Think about it: Is anything certain? Is that question mere philosophical bullshit? It’s reality. The world is far too complex for anything to be certain. I’m hard-pressed to think of anything for which I am certain. Things become incredibly complex very quickly. If we make a decision under the assumption that the factors are certain, we are gambling and we will eventually lose that gamble.
I discuss imperfect information a little more extensively in my article, "Imperfect Information".
The "Bear-Paw" Slide. An illustration of a BI system to analyze and predict the behavior of customers, certainly a
craft of imperfect information.