150 years of Business Intelligence: A brief history

Business Intelligence (BI) has become the indispensable set of tools and strategies used by organisations to carry out insightful and effective business operations

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1970's - The first BI vendors

With the appearance of the first BI vendors (SAP, Siebel and JD Edwards, the last two now part of the Oracle Corporation), tools became available to help accessing and organising data in more effective ways.

IBM and Siebel developed the first comprehensive BI systems.

BI software began giving structure to the vast amounts of data we had been collecting during the previous decades.

And yet, although access to data had taken giant steps and had improved significantly since the 1950's, the lack of infrastructure for data exchange and inharmonious systems still remained a big challenge.

Data was accessed from difference BI applications and sources and therefore could only be extracted individually.

1980's - Birth of data warehouses

The 1980's saw the advent of data warehouses, which are systems used for data analysis and reporting.

Data warehouses are used as central repositories of integrated data from one or more different sources. They store current and historical data in one single place that is used for creating analytical reports for separate departments in a company. They are now considered a core component of BI.

During the 80's BI applications were booming, and names like Crystal Reports or MicroStrategy became essential for any manager looking for insightful business strategies.

This is when Bill Inmon and Ralph Kimball came onto the scene with their different approaches to enterprise data warehouse.

Inmon proposed a top-down design. His approach meant that data warehouses are just one part of the overall BI system.

An enterprise would have one data warehouse and data marts could source their information from it. In this model, information is stored in 3rd normal form.

Ralph Kimball had a dimensional design theory (the bottom-up design). For Kimball, a data warehouse is the conglomerate of all data marts within an enterprise. Here data is always stored in the dimensional model.

Although each of the above approaches is different, both implied that data could be organised and could come from multiple locations for a total integration. And so the first generation of BI was born.

By the late 80's, BI tools were able to analyse and report on the data.

Howard Dresner of the Gartner Group popularised in 1989 the term BI as the umbrella term to describe “concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems.”

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