Why SAP BI Was Misnamed and the SAP Interpretation of Business Intelligence is Incorrect

Last Updated on May 6, 2021 by

Executive Summary

  • Why was SAP BI/BW named as it was, and which name was more applicable to the actual product?
  • What is the process that is required before one has “business intelligence?”

Video Introduction: Why SAP BI Was Misnamed and the SAP Interpretation of Business Intelligence is Incorrect

Text Introduction (Skip if You Watched the Video)

SAP BI originally started life as SAP BW or Business Warehouse. Technically speaking, SAP BI is a data warehouse. It follows one of two data warehouse designs, while Teradata follows the other. However, the term business intelligence is not synonymous with the term data warehouse. Instead, a data warehouse is the repository of information. Business intelligence may pull from a data warehouse, but it is not, in fact, the data warehouse itself. The applications that fall into the domain of business intelligence represent more of the data stream’s front end, where the data made to represent something to a human. You will learn about how this incorrect naming was used by SAP’s marketing department.

Reviewing the Terminology

The graphic below is an example of an attempt at business intelligence.

This is a front-end or graphic from Tableau’s public website. Tableau would be classified as an application that can provide business intelligence. However, I have looked at this graph several times and never really understood its meaning. The activity of business intelligence happens not when the graphic is made but when the message is understood. Because I do not yet understand this graphic, while it may be business intelligence to someone else who does, it is not yet business intelligence to me.

This graphic, which was made before computers existed, shows the march of men from France to Russia, when they expired, and how many returned to France. The tan is the number going in, and black is the number coming back. This is an example of excellent graphical design often cited by the graphs expert Edward Tufte. It also shows Napolean’s forces’ enormous entropy and how almost the entirety of Napolean’s army almost needn’t bothered with the trek back to France. I really can’t recall a Tableau or other visualization tool that provides the type of impact provided in this hand-drawn graphic. 

With computers, graphs will no longer be hand-drawn as this one was; however, it is important to consider that while business intelligence uses computers and software, they are just a means to an end.

Why the Name Change to BI?

SAP should have never changed the name of BW to BI because, as noted by Wikipedia…

“However, not all data warehouses are used for business intelligence, nor do all business intelligence applications requires a data warehouse.” – Wikipedia.

If an extract is performed using MASSD (a transaction designed to make changes to master data and to extract master data from SAP APO), and intelligence is gathered from it (say the capacity of resources being set to infinite is determined), then SAP business intelligence was performed, but without using BI. At one point, SAP changed the name of BI back to BW, but it never stuck. No one outside of SAP Product Management actually knows the official name for the product, which is sometimes referred to as BI/BW. This is the problem with naming things to sound trendy rather than naming things accurately.

SAP’s Deceptive Naming

SAP has a habit of doing this with their naming (I have observed this in their use of multiple terms such as material determination – rather than use the more accepted product substitution, the use of the term MPS, which is incorrect as well), and it generally degrades the understanding in companies where their software is installed. Part of what I do is explain SAP’s products and their nomenclature to companies because SAP cannot describe things accurately without falling back into doublespeak, which is designed to be consistent with product management/marketing, which has nothing to do with reality but is designed to maximize their software sales.

SAP BI’s Front End?

SAP BI provides the data backend, which is, in this case, a data warehouse and part of step 2, or the transformation. BI provides tools like the BEx, which essentially presents data in Excel. However, providing data to Excel, BI is finished, so it does not have much to do with business intelligence. This was one of the reasons used to justify the acquisition of Business Objects. The idea was that Business Objects would provide business intelligence. However, years after the acquisition, the integration between the products is not developed, so SAP has added nothing that a company that bought SAP BI and any of the Business Objects products if they bought them from SAP and Business Objects if they were still separate companies. In either case, it does not change the fact that the BI product has nothing to do with business intelligence.  However, even if BI and a Business Objects product were somehow integrated, it does not mean that BI is providing business intelligence. The Business Objects product would provide this.

Changing the Meaning of a Term

A further problem with naming a product BI is that the definition of business intelligence is much more than software and extends to “methodologies, processes, architectures, and technologies.” Therefore SAP BI can never encompass business intelligence because BI is only providing the technology. Nearly SAP took a well-established term, which several people like Hans Peter Luhn and Howard Dresner had spent time thinking about and defining. It misapplied it, even when the definition of business intelligence was already well-known when SAP did this. When products are named this badly, it brings confusion about what the term means because people look towards vendors to provide nomenclature that is correct and consistent with common usage.


SAP BI is unrelated to business intelligence and is not a business intelligence application. It was incorrectly renamed from the Business Warehouse (BW), which it is, to Business Intelligence (BI), which it is not. A simple review of BI’s front end or report generating capabilities easily demonstrates that it essentially stops as the transformation step. Unfortunately, SAP did this because, on SAP projects, there is no general misunderstanding about BI, as most people who work with it do not realize they are referring to a product that does not do what the product is named.