Business intelligence (BI) is a technology-driven process for analysing data and presenting actionable information to help corporate executives, business managers and other end users make more informed business choices. BI encompasses a range of tools, applications and methodologies that enable organisations to collect data from internal systems and external sources, prepare it for analysis, develop and run queries against the data, and create reports, dashboards and data visualisations to make the analytical results available to corporate decision makers as well as operational workers.

The potential benefits of business intelligence programs include accelerating and improving decision making; optimising internal business processes, increasing operational efficiency, driving new revenues, and gaining competitive advantages over business rivals. BI systems can also help companies identify market trends and spot business problems that need to be addressed.

BI data can include historical information, as well as new data gathered from source systems as it is generated, enabling BI analysis to support both strategic and tactical decision-making processes. At first, BI tools were primarily used by data analysts and other IT professionals who ran analyses and produced reports with query results for business users. Business executives and workers, however, are using BI software themselves, partly thanks to the development of self-service BI and data discovery tools.

Business intelligence combines a broad set of data analysis applications, which includes ad hoc analysis and querying, enterprise reporting, online analytical processing (OLAP), mobile BI, real-time BI, operational BI, cloud and software as a service BI, open source BI, collaborative BI and location intelligence. BI technology also includes data visualisation software for designing charts and other infographics, as well as tools for building BI dashboards and performance scorecards that display visualised data on business metrics and key performance indicators in an easy-to-grasp way. BI applications can be bought separately from different vendors or as part of a unified BI platform from a single vendor.

Additionally, BI programs can incorporate forms of advanced analytics, like data mining, predictive analytics, text mining, statistical analysis and big data analytics. Although, in most cases, advanced analytics projects are conducted and managed by individual teams of data scientists, statisticians, predictive modellers and other skilled analytics professionals, whilst BI teams oversee more straightforward querying and analysis of business data.    

Business intelligence data usually is stored in a data warehouse or smaller data marts which hold subsets of a company’s information. As well as this, Hadoop systems are becoming increasingly being used within BI architectures as repositories or landing pads for BI and analytics data, particularly for unstructured data, log files, sensor data and other kinds of big data. Before it is used in BI applications, raw data from different source systems must be integrated, consolidated and cleansed using data integration and data quality tools to make sure that users are analysing accurate and regular information.

In addition to BI managers, business intelligence teams normally include a mix of BI architects, BI developers, business analysts and data management professionals; business users often are also included to represent the business side and ensure that its needs are met in the BI development process. To assist with this, a growing number of organisation are replacing traditional waterfall development with Agile BI and data warehousing approaches that use Agile software development techniques to break up BI projects into small chunks and deliver new functionality to end users on an incremental and iterative basis.

Doing this can enable companies to put BI features into use more quickly and to refine or modify development plans as business needs change or new requirements emerge and take priority over earlier ones. Sporadic usage of the term business intelligence dates back to at least the 1860s, however, consultant Howard Dresner is credited with first proposing it in 1989 as an umbrella category for applying data analysis techniques to support business decision-making processes. What came to be known as BI technologies evolved from earlier, often mainframe-based analytical systems, like decision support systems and executive information systems. Business intelligence is sometimes used interchangeably with business analytics; in other cases, business analytics is used either more narrowly to refer to advanced data analytics or more broadly to include both BI and advanced analytics.