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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!

Integrating soft information (aka unstructured data or content) into the data warehouse has long been a concern for implementers in many industries.  And it was one of the issues I wanted to address head-on in my evolving Business Integrated Insight (BI2) architecture.

Last year, I was intrigued by the term "Unified Information Access" used by Attivio Inc. to describe their product that offers highly integrated access to both hard and soft data.  My impression from the marketing material was that they were describing exactly the sort of approach I envisaged to address the convergence of these to ends of the structuredness spectrum of information.  Deeper discussions with Andrew McKay, SVP at Attivio confirmed my first impressions, and led to my writing a white paper describing a "Unified Information Store" published this week.

You can read the summary of the paper below, but the bottom line is that by building the right set of metadata (an enhanced inverted index) you can provide integrated, contextually-rich, agile and easy-to-use access to hard and soft information residing in their normal technologies - relational databases and content management systems, respectively.  To my mind, this approach is the only viable way to come to avoid copying vast amounts of soft information into your warehouse and reap the benefits of combined data and content. 

Beyond the Data Warehouse, A Unified Information Store for Data and Content, May 2010
Sponsored by Attivio, Inc.

The worlds of data and content are on a collision course! With ever-growing hordes of content gathering in the business and on the Internet, the old civilization of the data warehouse is under siege. But, never fear! A solution is emerging--the outcome will be integration, not annihilation.

Based on over twenty years of information architecture experience from data warehousing, this paper first shows data and content as two ends of a continuum of the same business information asset and explores the depth of integration required for full business value.

We then define a unified information store (UIS) architecture as the approach to unification. The heart of this store is a core set of business information, indexes and metadata, originating from up-front enterprise modeling and text analytics of information when loaded and at the point of use, which ensure both data quality and agility. The business outcome is analytics that combine the precision of data querying with the relevance of content search, independent of the information source and structure.

Software vendors from both viewpoints--data and content--are already delivering products that blend the two worlds. Businesses that begin to implement a unified information store stand to gain early adopter advantage in this rapidly growing market.

Posted May 26, 2010 11:22 AM
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