Confusing Terminology Part 1 – What Does Business Intelligence Mean?

I remember watching a really good webinar one time entitled Ten Changes to Maximize the Impact of Your BI Strategy by Gartner analyst Kurt Schlegel.  I found it to be well worth the hour spent on it (perhaps because it confirmed many of my own opinions!) and have recommended it to a number of folks.  However, Mr. Schlegel made one point in passing that got me thinking about how we, as BI professionals, seem to go out of our way to confuse the business community about what we do.

Business Intelligence?

For just a minute, try to put yourself into the shoes of a BI consumer or prospect.  In particular, try to forget everything you know, as a BI professional, about business intelligence, data warehouses, reporting systems, etc.

Now, consider the term ‘Business Intelligence’.  What does it really mean?  What do you think of?  Could it be something like spying?  Could it be something like gathering intelligence about the business environment?

My point is, your first thought isn’t going to be business performance measurement (BPM) systems.  However, BPM is probably about 90% of what we do in the BI field.  Sure, Business Intelligence has a mysterious, almost James Bondian ring to it – but is it very descriptive?  Not at all. 

Remember When We Were DSS?

For those who haven’t been around for very long, keep in mind that Business Intelligence wasn’t the first name for what we do.  Before BI was BI, it was called DSS, or Decision Support Systems (and yes, that’s the reason why MicroStrategy’s product used to be called DSS Agent).

Stepping back even further, does anyone still remember EIS, Executive Information Systems?  Same concept, different name (and to really test your trivia moxy, MicroStrategy used to sell a product called EIS Toolkit).

In a lot of ways, these old terms are just as good, and maybe even better, at describing to users what this whole field is about.

My Recommendation

So, what’s the takeaway?  Well, the folks who need business intelligence largely don’t think in terms of business intelligence.  They think in terms that fit their world.  Terms like business performance reporting OR inventory optimization reporting OR sales force performance reporting OR sales margin analysis

So, if you want folks to buy in to your concepts, don’t lean on our industry-speak. Talk in terms that your target consumer understands.

Do you have any thoughts about how terminology just confuses the business community?  How about other things we do to shoot ourselves in the foot / collective feet?  Let me know.  You can reach me at 

Thank you!

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