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What is now known as business intelligence has it roots in management information, which emerged in the l970s promising much and delivering little.

What is now known as business intelligence has it roots in management information, which emerged in the l970s promising much and delivering little.

Back then the management information system (MIS), like BI today, was supposed to give decision-makers all the information they could ever need at their fingertips. MIS systems frequently failed because the hardware they ran on was neither quick enough, nor the software smart enough, to do what was required of them.

About a decade later the decision support system (DSS) arrived. One definition of DSS suggests a layer of analysis applications that sit on top of production applications, extracting key management measures. The executive information system (EIS) also eventually loomed large on the IT horizon. Though the term is not much used today, possibly due to a few high-profile failures of such systems, it referred to easy-to-use tools that gave disparate data something of a business context, though they often lacked deep analytical ability.

Over the years DSS and EIS systems of various sorts have proliferated along with online analytical processing (OLAP) tools that provided hitherto scarce in-depth functionality.

OLAP tools are used to perform trend analysis on sales and financial information. They enable users to drill down into masses of sales statistics in order, for instance, to identify volatile products.

But DSS, EIS and OLAP are often point solutions to a problem. BI should, on the other hand, should be more all embracing and provide with information from all over an enterprise.

BI software products are considered a step up from typical decision support tools. They have a more tightly integrate querying, reporting, OLAP, data mining and data warehousing functions.

Together the products should allow users to derive transactions and summaries they require without have to know what databases, and other data repositories, supplied it or where they are.

A more recent evolution of BI is the business intelligence portal, a corporate web portal that enables decision-makers to query information on enterprise-wide databases and produce reports.

The term may have been coined by an American company, Information Advantage, the creator of MyEureka software which, it is understood, was the first to combine BI software with a corporate portal. MyEureka provides HTML-based server applications for developing a corporate intranet and includes a search engine and repository for linking enterprise agents that can deliver custom web pages to different user groups as well as individual news pages for each user.

BI experts say vendors of a variety of different types of BI software claim their products have what it takes.

They stress the bottom line is the products should enable decision-makers to obtain all, and they emphasise all, the information they require from numerous databases.

Quite a few IT professionals are sceptical about business intelligence living up to its promise, and some jokingly claim it’s an oxymoron like military intelligence.

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