Selasa, 05 Juni 2012

Thrust of Business Intelligence: A Primer

The field of business intelligence (BI) deals with ways to muster information in order to support the objectives of an organization in a fluid environment. Although the term “business intelligence” was introduced in 1958, the moniker was hardly more than a dreamy notion at the time.

In the absence of digital tools, the concept had scant impact on the practice of commerce. To fulfill its potential, the domain would have to await the advent of computer systems.

Rise of Digital Platforms

The mainframe computer began to make inroads in the business environment during the 1960s. Even so, the hardware was too expensive and the software too primitive to make much of a dent in any but a few isolated corners of commerce.

A case in point was the record of payments received by an insurance firm from millions of customers. Another sample was the coordination of bookings by an airline through a network offices spread around the globe.

If the computer were to spread its wings, the hardware and software had to become a lot cheaper and suppler. In this light, a watershed was the advent of midsize machines during the 1970s.

Another wave of equipment burst forth during the following decade: the rise of the personal computer. The uptake of affordable machines throughout the organization led to the proliferation of digital systems for storing and analyzing data.

Yet, there was a big barrier standing in the way of further progress. The initial wave of equipment took the form of stand-alone machines. In the absence of electronic links, the isolated rigs could only work on a particular task in piecemeal fashion.

Islands of Computation

At the low end of the product line, a desktop computer could be used for basic functions in the office, factory or studio. An example lay in word processing or spreadsheet analysis.

At the high end of the range, beefy devices known as workstations were deployed in a number of additional niches. A case in point was product design within an engineering department or scientific analysis in a research lab.

On the other hand, the cost of hardware and the dearth of software held back the digital revolution. To bring up an example, the practitioners in business intelligence had to rely for the most part on manual schemes for monitoring the marketplace, spotting key trends, and so on.

Even simple tasks had to be mediated at every step by human minders. An example was the offline analysis of sales figures on a desktop machine, after the data had been copied onto a diskette from the archives of a corporate mainframe. Another sample was the manual extraction of salient statistics from a paper document purchased from an external vendor of market research.

If the field of business intelligence were to flourish, then a fresh breakthrough would be needed. To this end, a seminal advance was the release of the World Wide Web in 1991.

Rollout of the Information Highway

The advent of the Web, along with graphic interfaces for browsing materials, set the stage for the torrid growth of the information highway. As a result, the Internet entered the mainstream of business as well as the society at large. The digital network would come to serve as the groundwork for personal interaction as well as commercial activity.

The attractions of cyberspace led to the mass linkup of offices, factories and other sites to the global infobahn. Amid the groundswell of connectivity, access to the Net became a hallmark of modern culture at home, school and work.

The power of digital platforms burgeoned during the 1990s even as their cost plummeted. Against this backdrop, the practitioners of business intelligence began to rely more heavily on virtual tools to support their activities.

On one hand, the software aids designed for business applications were still patchy and clunky. For this reason, computer systems could do little more than access raw data in online warehouses, perform statistical analysis in offline mode, and plot the results on pretty charts.

As an example, a digital system could be used to obtain sales data from internal storage or download market reports from external sites. Yet, the fetched items had to be studied and evaluated for the most part by human analysts.

By the dawn of the millennium, the Internet turned into a standard medium for communication among individuals as well as organizations. Thanks to the meshwork of connectivity, the stage was set for the next wave of business applications.

Another trend at the time was the rapid spread of database systems based on open source software. As a result, a data warehouse was no longer just a luxury for giant corporations but a necessity for myriads of smaller firms.

Digital Tools in the Mainstream of Commerce

The upgrowth of databases, along with the tools to manipulate the contents, led to a couple of notable changes in the field of BI. In the past, the domain had been the backyard of a small band of mavericks in the consulting industry. But now the tiny squad ballooned into a vast army as hordes of newcomers swarmed into the field.

Another outcome was the development of nifty tools for analyzing data. Prior to the upsurge of digital platforms, the practitioners in BI used to claim that keeping tabs on trends in the marketplace was the crux of their work.

However, the task of environmental scanning took a back seat as the years wore on. Thanks to the profusion of hardware platforms as well as software tools, the manipulation of internal data moved to center stage.

In this milieu, the workers in BI turned their focus inward. With increasing frequency, monitoring the environment was an elusive function that was given short shrift in practice.

By the dawn of the 21st century, any mention of external scanning was largely an empty gesture during a zealous bid to secure a consulting contract. If the concept was trotted for a particular project, the real reason was to titillate any senior executives who happened to stop by during a sales presentation.

Roundup of Business Intelligence

During its infancy, the field of business intelligence was the preserve of a small band of practitioners who dealt almost exclusively with external trends in the marketplace. Given the dearth of digital tools, however, business intelligence was scarcely more than a feeble afterthought within the larger realm of marketing strategy.

On the other hand, the outward bent was turned on its head amid the flowering of digital platforms throughout the enterprise during the 1990s and beyond. The groundswell of internal applications was driven by low-cost hardware as well as open source software. The platforms in the latter category spanned the gamut from online media and database packages to operating systems and analytic tools.

And so it came to pass that the realm of BI flourished in terms of technical capabilities as well as fielded applications. The community of practitioners burgeoned, along with the ensemble of customers and the intake of revenues for services rendered.

In contrast to its original purview, however, the field gradually turned inward to focus on internal activities rather than external events. By the turn of the millennium, the practice of business intelligence became more or less synonymous with the management of information within the enterprise.


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