Data Culture: A brief history of business intelligence

Why is a data culture important?

Why does building a data culture in the 2020s involve the challenges and goals that it does?

Why am I publishing in July a video recorded in January?

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BI Application Internals, Circa 1986

The first two questions are probably the easier ones to answer, so I’ll save the third one for last.

For the first question, I’ll refer you to the first post and video in this series, which introduces the key concepts for a data culture.

For the second question, you need to understand how we got to where we are today – how the data and BI technologies we use today evolved over the past decades. And that’s where today’s video[1] comes in. Check out a brief history of business intelligence for context on the problems that a successful data culture needs to solve, and what your starting point might be.

I won’t go into depth here (I spent six months on that video, so darned right I’m not going to spoil it!) but there are basically four phases in this brief history:

  1. The dark ages, also known as “back when I was your age” when there was no BI, and decisions were made based on human knowledge, instinct, and experience
  2. The good old days, when BI solutions were developed by highly skilled BI professionals using complex and difficult tools, and when ETL consultants could charge exorbitant rates[2] without clients blinking an eye
  3. The SSBI era where every business user got up to their elbows in data, and IT wasn’t slowing anyone down any more
  4. Nirvana[3], where IT and business work together as partners, each contributing based on their skills and priorities to common shared goals

And each phase brought (or brings) with it its own challenges:

  1. Dependence on specific individuals with specialized knowledge, slow decisions, and probably giant hair you spent hours sculpting with Aqua Net
  2. Expensive development efforts, long turnaround times for insights, IT becomes a bottleneck
  3. Inconsistent results, untrusted (and untrustworthy) insights, producing misinformed business decisions
  4. Difficulty in aligning business and IT and making the necessary cultural changes… also flannel?

And for that third question, please let me just say that 2020 is kicking my butt in ways I never expected. Between work and family and the global pandemic that’s ravaging the globe, I’ve needed to harshly triage all non-essential work. Back in January I was sure I would publish this video a week late, but still in January. Back on February 24th I made this optimistic comment:

In case you’ve been wondering why my blog and YouTube output has dried up this month, it’s because real life has been kicking my ass. I think I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, so hopefully we’ll be back with regular content before too long. Hopefully.

That was about a week before the coronavirus outbreak at the nursing home down the road from my house hit the news, and it’s all been downhill from there.

I’m tempted to say I again see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m not going to do that. The last time the light turned out to be a train. I will instead say that I’ll do my best to get more blog and video content created and published as consistently as possible and that I appreciate your patience and your support[4].


[1] Today’s video was recorded on January 19th as “take two” that delayed its publishing. Basically I was filming the video at the end of the day when I had planned on publishing it, so I figured it would end up being a week late. Yeah.

[2] This may not be how everyone remembers those times, but this is my blog and my story and I’m sticking with it.

[3] Or Pearl Jam. Maybe Soundgarden. I never really did keep up with grunge, so I’m honestly not sure.

[4] I don’t want to get anyone’s hopes up, but between Friday evening when I wrote this post and finished editing the video, I have recorded the next two videos in the data culture series, and edited the first of them. Only time will tell if August is kinder to me than recent months have been, but barring unforeseen circumstances you’ll see the next two videos on the next two Monday.

One thought on “Data Culture: A brief history of business intelligence

  1. Pingback: Data Culture: Roles and Responsibilities – BI Polar

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