It is almost as good as the old joke, "Well, I could tell you, but then you'd wish yourself dead." Worse, most definitions, including this unsourced and probably plagiarized definition you can find popping up everywhere consists mostly of even more buzz words, heck, we could make a Bingo card out of it. Still, for those of us who work with data and technology, it makes perfect sense -- but that's because we build it every single day.
However, for people whose work does not touch technology for more than a Facebook post or a Google search, this definition sounds very expensive, indefinite, and unclear. It is just another set of buzz words without any concrete experience to give abstractions such as "information," or "informed," or "actionable." Because, let's face it, until recently most businesses have operated off of a bookkeeper's basic reports of sales and expenses if not just a bank statement. Most folks not involved in the "data" intensive industries might know how to make a pivot table in a spreadsheet program, but evaluating the accuracy of a box-plot, or even knowing what a box-plot consists of and why you'd want to use it -- well, that's another story.
It all begins with data
See, here's what's changed in the recent past. Ask yourself to remember when you got on the internet. Were you on it before there were web browsers like Mosaic (which later became Netscape)? Do you remember dialing up with a modem to an internet service provider which had access to more than a phone line? When you stop to think about it, were you buying anything online in 1995 before Amazon and ebay launched?
And do you remember when you quit writing checks and started paying your bills on-line? When did you get your first credit card? When did you get your first mobile phone? When did you get your kids their mobile phone(s)? When did you connect your television to the internet?
As the internet matured and became more accessible, as PC speeds increased, as modems were replaced with on all-the-time connections, as government agencies began to digitize their records, as libraries made deals for ebooks, as e-books became a Thing, as avatars / virtual identities became a Thing, as webforms became a Thing ... more and more information has been amassed. And this is what "Big Data" is about. The ginormous volume of information we gather each day about each other, and the ridiculous amount of information which is digitized daily and made available publicly. And this has changed the world, what we know about it, and what we know about each other.
In the mid-2000s eCommerce companies and their marketing folks began to develop the systems which could capture people's mouse clicks. Of course they had the sales data and the sales history. But more importantly, both software and hardware had sufficiently developed that the interaction between humans and their retailers could be captured, measured, stored, and then quantified.
Game companies wanted to know who was playing their game, for how long, and to track how much they were willing to pay for additional bells and whistles. eCommerce retailers wanted to increase the amount of each customer's purchase so they spent time developing the logic and the algorithms to recommend an additional product because you "liked" the one you purchased. Advertisers got to the point where they didn't want to pay unless it could be proven that Channel A was the source of the entrance to the website.
Companies embedded in technology began to act upon the information they could "see" with discount programs, incentives, additional recommendations. Their customers loved that the anonymous giant would offer them up another book, shirt, or sword they wanted to read, wear, or use. Companies embedded in the Internet Revolution knew they could pull information from Twitter or Facebook, because those companies were sharing their information via an internet connection. Companies like kaggle worked with companies like Netflix to create competitions to incite data scientists to explore their datasets to create recommender systems, or develop credit card fraud detection systems, predict the stock exchange, or even just explore craft beers and the breweries which produce them.
Business Intelligence is not a specific line in the sand, it is a way of exploring new possibilities which makes sense only to the context in which the business or organization operates. Business Intelligence is developed through a combination of Subject Matter Expertise, research, and computer skills. But it is because of the technological developments of the past five years - with cloud computing, open source software programs (i.e., free), and open data (i.e., government data, or data feeds from companies such as Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter) that makes this an affordable possibility for them to add to their competitive advantage.