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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!

Synchronicity is a wonderful thing! I get yet another follower notice from Twitter today, and for the first time in ages I am curious enough to check the profile. It turns out that @LaurelEarhart is marketing director for the Smart Content Conference, among other things, including Biz Dev Maven! And there, I read "Perfect storm: #Google acquired #Metaweb" announced on July 16. Having just done a webinar with Attivio yesterday on the topic "Beyond the Data Warehouse: A Unified Information Store for Data and Content" my interest was piqued. Let me tell you why.

I suspect that very few data warehouse vendors or developers have paid much attention to Metaweb or its acquisition. As far as I can tell, it hasn't turned up on the data warehouse or BI analyst blogs either. Perhaps the reason is that Metaweb's business is in providing a semantic data storage infrastructure for the web, and Freebase, an "open, shared database of the world's knowledge". For data warehouse geeks, the former is probably a bit off-message, while the latter may sound like Wikipedia, although the mention of a shared database may raise the interest level slightly.

But, if you're thinking about what lies beyond data warehousing (as I am), and wondering how on earth we're ever going to truly integrate relevant content with the data in our warehouses, what Metaweb and now Google are doing should be of some interest. Here's a quote from Jack Menzel, director of product management at Google on his blog:

"Type [barack obama birthday] in the search box and see the answer right at the top of the page. Or search for [events in San Jose] and see a list of specific events and dates. We can offer this kind of experience because we understand facts about real people and real events out in the world. But what about [colleges on the west coast with tuition under $30,000] or [actors over 40 who have won at least one oscar]? These are hard questions, and we've acquired Metaweb because we believe working together we'll be able to provide better answers."

For me, the interesting point here is the inclusion in the hard questions of conditions that would make sense to even the most inexperienced BI user. Take either of these two hard questions and you can easily imagine the SQL statements required, provided you defined and populated the right columns in your tables. The problem is that you need to have predefined columns and the tables in advance of somebody asking the questions.

What Metaweb on the Internet and Attivio on the intranet (and, of course, other vendors in both areas) are trying to do is to bridge the gap between data and content, so that users can ask mixed search and BI queries based on the implicit understanding that exists in the data/content stores of the semantics of the information. And, perhaps more importantly, to be able to do that in a fully ad hoc manner that doesn't require prior definition of a data model and its instantiation in columns and tables of a relational database. If you want to dig deeper, I invite you to take a look at my recent white paper.

In the meantime, my thanks to @LaurelEarhart and the wonder of synchronicity.

Posted July 22, 2010 3:39 AM
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