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Barry Devlin

As one of the founders of data warehousing back in the mid-1980s, a question I increasingly ask myself over 25 years later is: Are our prior architectural and design decisions still relevant in the light of today's business needs and technological advances? I'll pose this and related questions in this blog as I see industry announcements and changes in way businesses make decisions. I'd love to hear your answers and, indeed, questions in the same vein.

About the author >

Dr. Barry Devlin is among the foremost authorities in the world on business insight and data warehousing. He was responsible for the definition of IBM's data warehouse architecture in the mid '80s and authored the first paper on the topic in the IBM Systems Journal in 1988. He is a widely respected consultant and lecturer on this and related topics, and author of the comprehensive book Data Warehouse: From Architecture to Implementation.

Barry's interest today covers the wider field of a fully integrated business, covering informational, operational and collaborative environments and, in particular, how to present the end user with an holistic experience of the business through IT. These aims, and a growing conviction that the original data warehouse architecture struggles to meet modern business needs for near real-time business intelligence (BI) and support for big data, drove Barry’s latest book, Business unIntelligence: Insight and Innovation Beyond Analytics, now available in print and eBook editions.

Barry has worked in the IT industry for more than 30 years, mainly as a Distinguished Engineer for IBM in Dublin, Ireland. He is now founder and principal of 9sight Consulting, specializing in the human, organizational and IT implications and design of deep business insight solutions.

Editor's Note: Find more articles and resources in Barry's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel and blog. Be sure to visit today!

April 2007 Archives

I'm on the plane back from the Global Innovation Outlook Deep Dive on Media and Content in Helsinki, and here, as promised, is a quick view on the really fascinating discussions that took place.

First, though, a quick gripe at the airlines. First, they failed to transfer my bag from Dublin through Heathrow onto my flight - arriving in Helsinki at 17:45 and following three more flights from London over the next few hours - finally delivered it to my hotel at 2am. Then they added insult to injury by telling me that the system couldn't accept a request to transfer my bag through Lhr on the way back (until they got exceptional management permission!) because Aer Lingus had left the Oneworld Alliance three weeks ago. Well done to BAA, British Airways, Finnair and Aer Lingus for making the trip such a pleasant experience!!!

Fortunately, the meeting was much more enjoyable.

You can read the official blog elsewhere, so what follows are my eye-openers.
"Democratisation of content" is changing the media business irrevocably. We may tend to think (as I did) of this phrase as meaning that Joe or Jill Bloggs can create brand new content such as text, images, audio or video far more cheaply than professionals can, and sometimes the quality can even be acceptable. But, in many cases, it's not brand new content; it's often a mash-up of content from existing material. This is a much more common form of creativity that has existed since time immemorial and can be seen in art forms such as collage. Calling this "pirating" just confuses the issue; the social acceptance of this behaviour and the ease with which it can now be done is a fact of the marketplace that content providers may just have to get used to. But what I think it means is that the sale of digital content "rights" (or "restrictions" as one of our participants phrased it) is fast becoming an untenable business model. The people who seem to be hurting most are the publishers, record companies and production / distribution organisations that have most profited from this model in the past; and, unsurprisingly, they are the most resistant to change.

One thought we had was that the emphasis in the Media industry needs to switch from the subset of users who are unwilling to pay for anything (estimated to be less than 20% of the market) to those who understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and are willing to pay a fair price for content and who often want to see that payment go in a larger share to the actual creative people who built the content. Unfortunately, at present there are not too many real and legal mechanisms to do this.

At the artist's end of the spectrum, the internet is creating a new opportunity for collaborative working that may further diminish the role of the publishers and distributors. Artists can create collaborative communities on the Web where they can meet people with the complementary skills they need to turn an idea into a marketable product. In the music industry, that might include a producer, a sound engineer, a graphic designer, a marketer and a few more. Collaborative tooling and a place on the web to meet and work is probably all they need to get it all together. In this case, what's the role of the record company in the future?

It certainly looks as if the traditional publishers and producers are in danger of being dis-intermediated.

The second topic that really caught my attention was a "digital identity" or "digital me" on the Internet. The technologists tend to see this identity as a cool way to enable a more free-flowing experience in the online world, where appropriate content in context ("the information you need and only the information you need") could be channelled directly to you. Privacy advocates see significant dangers in such a consolidated digital identity, greatly increasing the risk of abuse of power, and so on.

While some of our debate centred on the question of "should we have a digital identity", it struck me that we are acquiring a digital identity anyway by stealth - courtesy of data warehousing / business intelligence - so, the real question we need to ask is: "how can we, the consumers, take back control of our online identities?" What we need, therefore, is technology that makes it easier to create and manage our digital identities, as well a trustworthy institution or set of institutions who would hold these identities with maximum privacy and security.

The bottom line in all the topics - a new business model for content, communities of collaborating artists and digital identity - boils down to a single word: TRUST. Interestingly, trust has been the basis on which the open software industry has grown. It's at the core of e-Bay's business. And it looks like it's going to be key to Media and Digital Content in the future.

Posted April 18, 2007 11:13 AM
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I'll have the privelege of being part of IBM's Global Innovation Outlook (GIO) 3.0 project this year when I get to attend the deep dive on Nedia and Content in Helsinki in the middle of this month. I'll report back after that, but as I prepare for the session, I've been doing a little bit of reading about the topic, and wanted to share with you my amazement at the changes that are going on in that business. There's an excellent point-of-view from the IBM Institute of Business Value - "Navigating the Media Divide" that's well worth a read.

The increasing role of Joe or Jane Citizen in producing content is proving to be very disruptive to the traditional media businesses, and reflects a deep change in the relationship between "consumers" and "producers" in today's society. Who would have thought only a few years ago that people would choose to view personally-produced videos over professional ones. Yet that's what appears to be happening with the growing populatity of YouTube. The same shift can be seen in Wikipedia - an encyclopedia written by non-professionals, in Amazon with every Joe Bloggs writing book reviews; not to mention the explosion of blogging itself.

I'm only posing the question here, because I don't have the answer, but how is this power shift going to play out in other business areas, in govenrment and in education? What are the implications for the way software develops? And what's the knock-on effect on business intelligence when everybody wants to have their say on the business trends?

I'd say we're in for a sea-change. Hold tight to the rails. And follow the blog on the GIO website above to see how the thinking is developing.

Posted April 13, 2007 5:58 PM
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