I just watched a cute video by Nic Smith on the history of Business Intelligence. Granted it was a shill for Microsoft but still it was cute and mostly accurate. However, there was one erroneous attribute that I think most people may not know. The term, "Business Intelligence" was not coined by Howard Dresner as stated in the video -- he did a fine job of making it popular but he did not invent the term. Read on to find out where it was first used...
I love history. In fact, I was a semester away from having a history degree in college (German history was my favorite). Because of this interest, I have always been curious about the origins of things. So since I have been immersed in Business Intelligence (BI) for the past 20+ years, I wondered about the term, BI -- where did it come from, who first used the term, did it have a similar meaning to our current definition? Fortunately for me, I ran into a good friend of mine, Alan Meyer, InfoSphere Marketing for IBM's System z (that's the mainframe for those of you not up on IBM's nomenclature) who sent me an article that is the earliest documented usage of BI in its modern sense that I can find.
So where was BI first used (drum roll please...)?
A paper written by H.P.Luhn in IBM Journal, titled "A Business Intelligence System:. The date was October 1958! Yes -- 61 years ago. Dan Vesset of IDC wrote about it in his article on the 50th birthday of DB2. (You don't look a day over 39...)...
So was Luhn's definition on target? You bet it was. Here are just a few excerpts from the short paper and remember -- these were written over 60 years ago:
Abstract: "An automatic system is being developed to disseminate information to the various sections of any industrial, scientific, or government organization. This intelligence system will utilize data-processing machines for auto-extracting and auto-encoding of documents and for creating interest profiles for each of the 'action points' in an organization."
In the body of the paper: "Information is now being generated and utilized at an ever-increasing rate because of the accelerated pace and scope of human activities and the steady rise in the average level of education. At the same time, the growth of organizations and increased specialization and divisionalization have created new barriers to the flow of information. There is also a growing need for more prompt decisions at levels of responsibility far below those customary in the past. Undoubtedly the most formidable communications problem is the sheer bulk of information that has to be dealt with. In view of the present growth trends, automation appears to offer the most efficient methods for retrieval and dissemination of this information."
"The objective of the system is to supply suitable information to support specific activities carried out by individuals, groups, departments, divisions, or even larger units... To that end, the system concerns itself with the admission of acquisition of new information, its dissemination, storage, retrieval, and transmittal to the action points it servers."
Granted, at this time, the new sources of information were things like paper documents, microfilm, and microfiche but Luhn's ideas are spot on with today's definition of BI. As much as we credit Bill Inmon, Ralph Kimball and, yes, Howard Dresner with coming up with these ideas (and they certainly deserve a lot of credit), I have to say that H.P. Luhn was the originator of many of the ideas behind the data warehouse and the ultimate goal of Business Intelligence. Hats off to this true visionary! Wonder what ever happened to him...
Yours in BI success for another 60 years.
Posted March 30, 2009 1:51 PM
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