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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!

I came across an ad today for a Google Webcast on Universal Search for Business. It contained the phrase "As the volume of information inside enterprises explodes, most executives recognize the importance of a Google-like search solution for business content.", which set me wondering...

A Google-like search solution for business content? What exactly does that mean?

The phrase "Google-like search", of course, covers a multitude of marketing-speak, but let's assume that it includes the patented PageRank technology behind Google's Internet search success. Google itself describes PageRank as follows: "PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value." (http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=PageRank&oldid=230400158 as of Aug. 7, 2008). A number of questions arise for me: Does an enterprise intranet usually have a vast link structure? Would business executives really consider the "democratic vote" of the organization as a valid indicator of a document's importance? Indeed, how democratic is the link structure in an intranet?

Google, Wikipedia and many Web 2.0 systems have an underlying belief in James Surowiecki's concept of "the wisdom of crowds". Data warehousing, Business Intelligence and, indeed, all traditional IT development tend to put more faith in experts and their accumulated knowledge. In the BI world, I'm beginning to see some level of acceptance that the so-called experts do not have a monopoly on business knowledge. We see that there is a growing need to allow and, indeed, facilitate the feedback of knowledge that emerges on the fringes of the BI community (the front-line staff and first-line managers) back into the core of the warehouse for wider promulgation and reuse.

But, to what extent does Google and the Web 2.0 community recognize that some knowledge is inherently more useful or valuable (although not necessarily "right") simply based on the authority of its source? And within the tighter and more closed confines of an enterprise, that not all the requirements for wise crowds are met? If not, we may see the many years of careful effort by data modelers and administrators, and information stewards overturned in the rush to Web 2.0. This would not be in anybody's interest.

On the other hand, if I've made the wrong assumption about what "Google-like search" means... Anybody care to comment? Or maybe I'll find time to sign up for the webinar!

Posted August 7, 2008 8:17 PM
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