Business intelligence (BI) and data analytics give tech decision makers a clearer idea of how well their companies are running, and if they are meeting goals. Some business users struggle to understand how BI and analytics work in concept and in practice. These 21 terms should be in every BI or data analyst’s vocabulary.

SEE: Mini-glossary: Big data terms you should know

Ad Hoc Query

The ability to create a one-off, “on demand” report from BI or analytics software that answers a specific business question.


The severing of links between people in a database and their records to prevent the discovery of the source of the records, and to maintain privacy and confidentiality.

Behavioral analytics

Using data about people’s behavior to understand intent and predict future actions.

Balanced Scorecard

A performance management tool that holistically captures an organization’s performance from several vantage points (e.g., sales results vs. inventory levels) on a single page.

Contextual data

A structuring of big data that attaches situational contexts to single elements of big data to enrich them with business meaning (e.g., instead of a customer record that tells you the customer’s name and address, data appended to this record data also gives the customer’s buying preferences, which is gathered from recent web activity data). The result is a more complete understanding of the customer and her lifestyle.


A collection of data arranged for convenient and quick search and retrieval by applications and analytics software.

Data broker

A business that collects personal information about consumers and sells that information to other organizations.

Data mart

A small data repository that is focused on information for a specific subject area of the company, such as Sales, Finance, or Marketing.

Data model

A data model is the result of a collaborative effort between end business users and IT database analysts. The first step is to define in plain English what data the business needs in order for its various functions to communicate with each other, and how this data must be ordered and structured so it makes the most sense. The second step is for the data analysts and other IT staff to devise a technical data base, a data storage and security plan, and a plan that enables application and analytic report development using this data. Together, these processes result in a data model for the business.

SEE: Prescriptive analytics: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Data point

An individual item on a graph or a chart.

Data visualization

A method of putting data in a visual or a pictorial context as a way to assist users in better understanding what the data are telling them (e.g., a map is a way to visualize which areas of the country get the most rainfall).

Data warehouse

A data repository that deals with multiple subject areas (or data marts).


A mechanism that includes or excludes specific data from reports based upon what the user decides to filter (e.g., to tightly tailor a report, you might strictly want records of customers between the ages of 25 and 35 who like skiing, but you want to exclude everyone else).

Gap analysis

A study of whether the data that a company has can meet the business expectations that the company has set for its reporting and BI, and where possible data gaps or missing data might exist.

Key performance indicator (KPI)

A metric a business measures its progress against when performing BI analytics to determine whether it is meeting its goals. The results are reported in the form of a dashboard or a scorecard report that enables executives, managers, and employees to assess performance, and whether a given goal (or metric) is being met, exceeded, or missed.


Data that gives information about what the primary data is about (e.g., if a photo is the primary data, its metadata might consist of what its resolution is, when the photo was taken, etc.).


Measures of performance that observe progress and evaluate trends within an organization.

Multipolar analytics

A distributed big data model where data is collected, stored, and analyzed in different areas of the company instead of being centrally located and analyzed.


The structure that defines the organization of data in a database.

Slice and Dice

Data manipulation tools in reporting or spreadsheet software that allow users to view data from any angle.


A view of data at a particular moment in time.

Subscribe to the Data Insider Newsletter

Learn the latest news and best practices about data science, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, data security, and more. Delivered Mondays and Thursdays

Subscribe to the Data Insider Newsletter

Learn the latest news and best practices about data science, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, data security, and more. Delivered Mondays and Thursdays