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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 was browsing through the blogs on B-eye-network.com this morning (Sunday - yeah, sad, I know) and came across two recent entries that spoiled my coffee. Given that I'm no fan of instant gratification (in IT anyway), I'm not going to give you links, so you have to work at finding them yourself. But the phrases that caught my eye were "Instant SOA", "Data marts in about an Hour" and "full EDW's with AS-IS star schemas in 2 weeks".

Now I'm as fond of a shortcut as the next guy, but I've learned the the word "Instant" is not all goodness. When I've bought some instant Spaghetti Bolognese in the local supermarket I've found that the cost is a lot higher than the individual ingredients and the taste, well, leaves a lot to be desired. Sure, I saved some time when I got home, but did I get value for money? And did I end up with what I really wanted? So, why should I expect more from an Instant DW?

"Caveat emptor" as the Romans used to say. Here are a few contra-indications for when instant gratification should not be expected in your next BI (or SOA) project:

  1. The business users are not quite sure what they want.
    Most BI projects start with a vague set of requirements from the potential users. It's going to take some time to hone these down to a usable definition of data and query needs. In the meantime, maybe it's best to let the users continue to play with their instant Excel spreadsheets and look over their shoulders to see what they're doing.
  2. Somebody forgot to document the meanings of the data in the source applications.
    This is the oldest metadata problem. If your data sources have not been properly described, an Instant DW is likely to be instantly dismissed as misleading and inaccurate. Do you want to go there?
  3. Garbage in, garbage out. Or worse...
    If your ingredients (data sources) are contaminated with erroneous data, you're going to end up with a very sick business on your hands if you just take the Instant DW approach. Understanding and fixing dirty data is time-consuming, but mandatory.

It's all about quality time... or quality vs. time. If I bring home my instant Spaghetti Bolognese, I may get it on the table within a few minutes. But, if the kids won't eat it or, worse, throw up that night, I'd argue I've made the wrong trade-off between time and quality. You need to consider the same balance in a BI or SOA project.

Now, I'm off to spend some quality time with my kids :-)

Posted August 24, 2008 12:20 PM
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