Friday, January 11, 2008

The first reported case of the use of BI?

This is not really about Oracle OLAP, or even Oracle Database. This relates to a recent article in the Economist, Dec 17 2007, about the historical uses of business intelligence. This is interesting from my perspective because I spend a good proportion of my time trying to convert data into useful information, or "business intelligence". Sometimes it is easy and sometimes the process is extremely frustrating. But this whole process of trying to make data useful and meaningful has been going on for a lot longer than you might think.

The article outlines the possible start of the whole business intelligence process as being 1821 and the person responsible, William Playfair. He drew a chart comparing tax levels in various countries in order to show that Britain's was too high. He was the first to show imports and exports on one chart, shading the area between the two to indicate the balance of trade and explaining that the intersection of the lines showed a shift in favour of one country or the other.

You can read the full article by going to the Economist Website (www. and searching on "Worth a Thousand Words", or by clicking here to go directly to the article.

Another interesting aspect of this article relates to the way the data is presented. All the examples use graphs to visualise a dataset. In the past in my role as a consultant I have found many companies reluctant to publish anything other than basic tables of data to their business users, including board level members. There is a terrible fear of not being able to see real numbers. However, as the article shows sometimes a graph is worth a thousand tables.

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