July 11, 2008

The phrase “business intelligence” was COINED for text analytics

Late last year, there was a little flap about who invented the phrase business intelligence. Credit turns out to go to an IBM researcher named H. P. Luhn, as per this 1958 paper. Well, I finally took a look at the paper, after Jeff Jones of IBM sent over another copy. And guess what? It’s all about text analytics. Specifically, it’s about what we might now call a combination of classification and knowledge management.

Half a century later, the industry is finally poised to deliver on that vision.


3 Responses to “The phrase “business intelligence” was COINED for text analytics”

  1. Seth Grimes on July 11th, 2008 4:42 pm

    Curt, don’t you remember: I mentioned to you coming across the Luhn paper posted on a Monash University Web site, asking if there was any relation? (To the university that is, not to Luhn.)

    On this topic, the text analytics origins of BI, check out my October 2007 article, A Brief History of Text Analytics, http://www.b-eye-network.com/view/6311 . Quoting from it —

    Text analytics is an answer to the “unstructured data” problem, which is best expressed by the truism that eighty percent of enterprise information originates and is locked in “unstructured” form. That problem has been recognized for decades. In fact, the first definition of business intelligence (BI) itself, in an October 1958 IBM Journal article by H.P. Luhn, A Business Intelligence System, describes a system that will:

    “…utilize data-processing machines for auto-abstracting and auto-encoding of documents and for creating interest profiles for each of the ‘action points’ in an organization. Both incoming and internally generated documents are automatically abstracted, characterized by a word pattern, and sent automatically to appropriate action points.”

    So we see that the earliest BI focus was on text – on extraction, categorization, and classification rather than on numerical data!

    Yet as management information systems developed starting in the 1960s, and as BI emerged in the ’80s and ’90s as a software category and field of practice, the emphasis was on numerical data stored in relational databases. This is not surprising: text in “unstructured” documents is hard to process. We went after the low-hanging fruit – the fielded, numerical data – in response to the analytics imperative that any business process worth conducting should be measurable, and that any data worth collecting should be analyzed.


  2. Curt Monash on July 11th, 2008 7:37 pm


    You and several other people on the Luhn paper. E.g., I linked to Rob Meredith’s Monash BI post — incorrectly ascribed to me by some people — last year, as per the above.

    But I did miss your link above, making the same point as I did in this post, only months earlier. Well done!

    Of course, now that I’ve seen it, I could quibble with some aspects. 🙂 You seem to be more positive on the current state of irony detection than I am. And you seem to be asserting that sophisticated data mining algorithms go hand in hand with sophisticated semantic recognition, while I think the opposite is closer to the truth.



  3. IBM silences its Business Intelligence Pioneers « document∩database on April 28th, 2009 10:50 am

    […] @CurtMonash […]

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