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How to explain and define business intelligence to mid-management

How best can I explain "business intelligence (BI) systems" to a group of middle-level managers who are new to this concept/idea?

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BI systems can be referred to as the infrastructure that enables the ability to get the "right data to the right people at the right time." Its definition can also be extended to include some of the data access tools and applications. Historically, BI has been used to mean whatever we do to the data warehouse. That's changing and BI is being used more operationally these days as well. Whether it's called business intelligence or not, no organization can argue with the concept of incorporating intelligence into the business. BI brings an empirical basis to organization decision making, which reminds me it used to be called "decision support services" — a definition which I still like today.

The bounds you place around what you call BI can have serious consequences for your BI program. If you set the boundary too tight, BI may never be considered for its ultimate potential. But if you consider only the basic reports that run from the data warehouse, will you also block any higher value applications from using the data layer of BI? In mature implementations, the data warehouse is useful for ad hoc query, reporting, feeding operational environments, data mining, feeding data marts, etc.

This was first published in September 2009

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