Business intelligence is not a well-defined term and is often interpreted differently depending on source or context. This makes digging through history to find its roots challenging. Hans Peter Luhn and Howard Dresner are normally credited with establishing modern business intelligence.

The first widely circulated use of the term "business intelligence" came from Richard Miller Devens' "Cyclopaedia of Commercial and Business Anecdotes" in 1865. The early technological use of business intelligence appeared in the 1950s.

Before Computers

Until the advent of computer software, most references to business intelligence described competitive intelligence, or legal spying. Very few people specialized in this form of business intelligence exclusively; most served some other business function. This is not what Devens' work described. He wrote about the work of a banker named Henry Furnese, who collected information faster and better than his competitors to turn a profit.

IBM and the Computer Age

Commercial computers hit markets in the United States in the 1950s. IBM researcher Hans Peter Luhn, a leading computer expert at the time, described business intelligence as "the ability to apprehend the interrelationships of presented facts in such a way as to guide action towards a desired goal."

Luhn's work helped create some of the foundational business analytics systems in early IBM systems. His 1958 IBM Journal article titled "Business Intelligence" laid the groundwork for analyzing and distributing documents according to business needs. Luhn is sometimes referred to as the father of business intelligence.

Modern Usage

Analyst Howard Dresner brought the term into common usage. By the late 1980s, it was clear that analyzing business information through computerized systems had a very bright future. Working for Future Gartner Group, Dresner offered that business intelligence included any "concepts and methods to improve business decision making by using fact-based support systems."

Starting in the late 2000s, analytics providers began using new terminology such as "business analytics" and "strategic intelligence." There are no universally agreed upon distinctions between these terms, but all operate under the larger umbrella of "big data."

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