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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 normally treat these debates on the paternity of the term "data warehouse" with a joke and a smile and let them go right by.  But Bill Inmon's latest newsletter article is just too factually incorrect to let it go without rebuttal.

In the article, Bill says:
'So let's examine the facts, something that "RAUL634" does not care to take into account.

In the mid 1980s, Barry Devlin, a research associate of IBM in Ireland, wrote an article discussing an "information warehouse." The article was written in the IBM Systems Journal. The article went on to address some vague and generally undefined concepts about the thing called an "information warehouse."'

Bill - please check YOUR facts before going into print. 

My (and Paul Murphy's) 1988 IBM Systems Journal article described an architecture, of which the key component was the "Business Data Warehouse".  It was far from vague, although it was certainly high level.  It introduced and defined many of the concepts that continue to be at the core of the data warehouse today.  Since IBM still owns copyright on the full article, I can't publish it here, but here is the key figure from it, and FACT - it does use the term "data warehouse" and define it with sufficient clarity that most people would accept it as the forerunner of the data warehouse today.

And here is the link to the full document on the IBM website, although you now have to pay to download it.

I can also state as a FACT that I and others within IBM Europe were using the term "data warehouse" internally as early as 1985-86.  However, despite widespread search, I have never found the term used in the public domain before my 1988 paper. 

Furthermore, it is a well-known and easily discoverable FACT that IBM announced the "Information Warehouse" in 1991.

And Bill - if you're really keen on facts - I suggest that you edit your own bio: "Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse."  By my dictionary, "universally recognized" means that literally everybody accepts the attribution. Clearly, some would disagree...

Posted August 6, 2009 8:49 AM
Permalink | 1 Comment |

1 Comment

I always though Inmon's claim was inflated. Now I have proof.

Being the father of something suggests giving birth and nuturing the entire analytic industry along. Inmon's contribution appears to be he wrote some public definitions and a book. Naming and defining something is not the same as making it happen.

Consider that Pilot Software was running analytic financial analysis on Dec VAX in 1986. Today we call this CPM. Britton-Lee was founded in 1979 to build database machines (more correctly data mart machines) and sold a boat load of them until they got bought 1989. Of course, the IBM Mainframe using DB2 was being heavily used for data marts in the 1980s -- I know, I was there. Then Teradata comes along with Neches and Walter and design the first parallel beasty that will be the cornerstone of the industry for years. Let's also not ignore the contributions of major BI Tools vendors in making this market such as startups like Cognos, Microstrategy, and Business Objects. And wasn't SAS building mainframe marts in the 1970s so people could control mainframe workloads? Inmon did not father any of this.

Shall we quibble whether every one of these vendors and products fits Inmon's definition? He would like that. I say no. True data warehouses did not appear until WalMart showed Teradata the real power of parallel SQL in the mid-1990s. Up until then, AT&T and BT were hammering out humongous data marts in the 1980s. Did Inmons published definitions have any influence on these marts and warehouse? Probably not. Or maybe a smidgen. Good people did magnificent things long before anyone had heard of Bill Inmon.

OK. So if Inmon is the father of something, does he really claim the good work of all these customers and vendors all sprang from his gudiance? A better question than "who invented the term data warehouse?" would be "who was it that told Inmon he was the father?"

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