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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!

July 2009 Archives

There's been a lot of interest in Enterprise 2.0, social networking and collaborative working over the past couple of years.  However, very little thought has been given to how such techniques can be realistically incorporated into today's Business Intelligence paradigms.

Working with Scott Davis and the folks at Lyzasoft over the past couple of months has given me pause to consider just how the rather controlling mindset of Data Warehousing will need to change to accommodate and encourage the more flexible approach to BI that Enterprise 2.0 implies.  To this end, I've come up with the "adaptive information cycle", a model that links the center-out approach of traditional data warehousing to the edge-based, emergent prototyping that characterizes today's analytic environment.

Traditionally, IT has always seen itself as the supplier of quality data to the decision makers, extracting data from the operational environment, cleansing and consolidating it in the Data Warehouse and making it available to business analysts through data marts and similar tools.  While this has undoubtedly been a good strategy, we still find numerous analysts loading up non-warehoused data and analyzing in non-standard, innovative ways.  While IT has railed at the plague of "spreadmarts" that has impacted data consistency and quality, there is no doubt that, from a business viewpoint, these independent thinkers are providing worthwhile answers and innovative ideas.  It's simply not on for IT to say "Quit doing that!"; we need a way to bring these activities into a more controlled environment and to link the emerging information needs and analyses back to the Data Warehouse.

The point about a controlled environment I dealt with earlier in a white paper on "playmarts", also originally developed in collaboration with Lyzasoft.

In a new white paper, available today on the Lyzasoft site, I deal with the absolutely essential linking of new insights developed by business analysts back to the Data Warehouse environment.  But, can we afford to link every business analyst's uncorroborated insight back to the warehouse?  Would we even want to?

Probably not, and this is where collaborative analytics comes in.  By enabling and encouraging business analysts to share and reuse their work in a managed and controlled environment, we can benefit from the "wisdom of crowds" - as analysts collaborate, best practices emerge through data and function that is invented, shared and cross-checked among one-another.  And what Lyza has now provided is an initial set of function to enable business analysts to collaborate in the creation of the new data sets and function the business needs.

Of course, this is only a first step on a longer journey that will involve a reappraisal of how the ubiquitous spreadsheet can be brought under control.  And we'll need Microsoft to step up to that one.  But Lyzasoft have made a good start on the principles and techniques needed. 

Posted July 9, 2009 6:41 AM
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