What’s the difference between Business Intelligence and Big Data?

THE-DIFFERENCEI’m often asked the following question:

What is the difference between Business Intelligence and Big Data?

Before getting into my approach to answering that question, let’s be clear on what we’re talking about. When most people say “Business Intelligence” they’re talking about the class of products that have been implemented in most organizations, not the actual information or knowledge that is derived from the use of these systems. When it comes to Big Data, most people aren’t quite sure what they are talking about…some are talking about the size of the data, some are referring to the approach to analysis and others are talking about the process as a whole.

One of the problems that exists today is ensuring everyone understands what big data is and isn’t. While that is a discussion for another time, in this post I’ll simply say that Big Data isn’t something you buy, implement, configure and start using like you would do with Business Intelligence systems. It’s much more complicated than that.

Back to the original question: What is the difference between BI and Big Data?

I’ve never really been able to answer that question as fully as I’ve wanted to because most people aren’t willing to sit down and listen to me walk through the history of business intelligence and big data and explain their differences.

After many attempts at finding a succinct way to describe the differences, I finally figured out that most people don’t care about the technical differences or the history. Most people just want a ‘sound bite’ answer so I came up with this response:

Business Intelligence helps find answers to questions you know. Big Data helps you find the questions you don’t know you want to ask.

When I answer the question this way, I tend to get the nod of the head and and response similar to “…well that sounds really complicated!”.

It is complicated. That’s the difference between Business Intelligence and Big Data. You don’t have easy, well defined reports and answers with big data like you do with BI. You don’t have a single system to implement and manage with big data like you do with BI.  Don’t get me wrong…BI systems aren’t “simple” and the thought and planning that needs to go into BI systems and planning is very detailed, but BI and Big Data are completely different.

Business Intelligence systems have their place in business. They deliver neat, well-designed answers to neat, well-designed questions. Nothing wrong with that…but most businesses don’t have neat, well-designed questions these days. In fact, most organizations don’t really know what questions they need to be asking.

That’s the difference between BI and Big Data.

Links for June 9 2013

  • Freeing your IT department from Stackholm Syndrome — Tech News and Analysis

    Quote: Many IT departments are enslaved by the very systems they have constructed. The solution doesn’t require starting over, only giving business the freedom to operate outside the stack.

  • Reclaiming the role of the CIO

    Quote: So, rather than being distracted by constant haranguing in relation to the role of the CIO, it is right and fitting that CIOs proactively embrace the challenges they are invited to address by virtue of their office and related functions.

  • The Inexorable Rise Of Nginx And Why CIOs Should Care: It’s About Mobile Engagement | Forrester Blogs

    Quote: Nginx is a symbol of a massive pivot in your techology platform from three-tier Web to four-tier engagement. Growth in nginx adoption should signal a radical overhaul of the architecture you will need to thrive in the mobile era. It’s time for us all to get smart about that.

  • Will the latest NSA surveillance scandal be a wake-up call about the power of data? — Tech News and Analysis

    Quote: We talk a lot about the business benefits of big data and only a bit about the privacy implications. A report alleging that Verizon is sharing phone data at the request of the NSA may make privacy a higher priority.

  • What cities, data and Yahoo have in common: Interaction matters — Tech News and Analysis

    Quote: A recent study from MIT suggests the likelihood of face-to-face interactions within a city means more productivity. It seems to apply equally to companies and even data, which suggests engineers and architects of all types should take notice.

  • Jim’s Notebook: Critical Thinking and Creativity

    Quote: It’s particularly problematic in user experience, where the suggestion of presenting the customer with a straightforward and logical process is overwhelmed by knee-jerk reaction, the whim of a silverback, or the sense that reason is inapplicable because "people don’t think," only to be replaced by a sloppy and obviously flawed alternative that is in the long-term best interest of neither the customer nor the firm.

  • Don’t Chase Happiness. Recognize It. | Becoming Minimalist

    Quote: There is a beautiful life of simplicity calling out to those who will listen. It invites us to live the life we were born to live, not the life our neighbor is seeking to achieve. Simplicity invites us to pursue the things we value most, not the values of billboards and magazines. It invites us to remove the distractions that keep us from living and enjoying life to the fullest.

  • Some will always say you’re wrong | Derek Sivers

    Quote: But if you expect this criticism in advance, and take pride in your stance, you can bash on with a smile, being who you want to be. Then every time they say you’re wrong, that’s a sign you’re doing it right.

  • Unsupervised Machine Learning, Most Promising Ingredient Of Big Data : CloudAve

    Quote: Traditionally, BI has been built on pillars of highly structured data that has well-understood semantics. This legacy has made most enterprise people operate on a narrow mindset, which is: I know the exact problem that I want to solve and I know the exact question that I want to ask, and, Big Data is going to make all this possible and even faster. This is the biggest challenge that I see in embracing and realizing the full potential of Big Data. With Big Data there’s an opportunity to ask a question that you never thought or imagined you could ask. Unsupervised machine learning is the most promising ingredient of Big Data.

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