Business Intelligence Goes Back to the Future

Seth Grimes has a great piece in Intelligent Enterprise entitled “BI at 50 Turns Back to the Future“. He reminds us of the vision that Hans Peter Luhn put forward for business intelligence back in 1958, in the IBM Journal article “A Business Intelligence System“. He further notes:

Ironically, the BI implementation Luhn described far more closely resembles the reference-library setting of the 1957 Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy movie comedy “Desk Set” than it does any system operating today. Luhn wrote of an information requestor who “telephones the librarian and states the information wanted. The librarian will then interpret the inquiry and will solicit sufficient background information… This query document is transmitted to the auto-encoding device in machine-readable form. An information pattern is then derived,” and so on. 

As I discussed before, the goal of an information access system, regardless of whether we are talking about enterprise search, business intelligence, or any other variation of information seeking, is to emulate a reference librarian. It’s nice to see that this is what the pioneers had in mind.

By Daniel Tunkelang

High-Class Consultant.

3 replies on “Business Intelligence Goes Back to the Future”

The business data we have now today is made of large sets of meaningless bits. What BI really is in 2008 is “painting”. You need to put all the bits together and tell a story. Aggregation is key.

I won’t deny that good retrieval is important, and certainly we need products like the one you guys produce, but the future is in “painting”, not retrieving the “dots”.


I hear you. We’re trying to do some of that painting too, but you’re right the we, and everyone in the BI space, have a ways to go. But I think a key success factor is presenting information in a way that catalyzes human insight, rather than over-relying on data mining to come up with that insight on its own. The painting is a cooperative process between the system and the user.


Yep. Now we just need to get academic researchers to agree as well.

Oh! And can anyone get GMail’s spam filter talking to me? Machine learning is good and all, but blind machine learning is not very nice.


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