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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!

Wow - what a saga!  I published the first article of the series "From Business Intelligence to Enterprise IT Architecture" in March and part 5 has just appeared, part 6 is under construction and I can see at least another couple to come.  So, what's it all about?

Business Integrated Insight* (BI2 - BI to the power of 2) is an architectural effort I've committed to undertake in order to extend and update the long-serving data warehouse / business intelligence architecture. Why?  It's very clear to me that the business requirements and expectations for business intelligence have expanded dramatically over the past ten years.  And that expansion has been into areas more usually thought of as operational applications and collaborative systems.  Both of these areas have also encroached into BI.  So, requirement boundaries have blurred significantly, and an architecture that was defined in the 1980s based on the then current definition of decision support could clearly do with a substantial overhaul.

One approach could be to try to address the changed needs from within the boundaries of data warehousing, as Bill Inmon, for example, has done with DW 2.0â„¢.  However, in my opinion, this effort has too narrow a focus.  Today's business users and decision-makers come from an entirely different generation to those that were the target audience of the original data warehouse efforts in the 1980s (Devlin & Murphy, 1988).  Modern business users are tech savvy, internet-aware, social networking animals.  Technology boundaries such as operational / informational / collaborative are simply not their scene.  My belief is that any new architecture for business intelligence must, by definition, extend over the entire IT infrastructure for business.

Is this a tall order?  Well, it's certainly ambitious.  But so was data warehousing way back in the mid-1980s when relational databases were still young.  But, the technology available today has advanced by leaps and bounds since then, especially in the last few years.  Take a look at columnar / parallel databases such as Netezza, Vertica, ParAccel, Aster Data, Infobright and more, not to mention Oracle's Exadata V2.  While the hype is about query speed and large data volumes, the potential is surely for a paradigm shift (there! I've said it) in data storage architectures.  The same drive is evident in the mushrooming interest in unstructured information, which I prefer to call soft information.  I wrote recently about Attivio, who are building a bridge between the worlds of unstructured and structured information.  From beyond the database world SOA-like and Web 2.0 technologies are also fundamentally changing the way the old operational and collaborative environments are structured.

These technologies and tools, and more, will enable the leap to BI2 over the coming few years.  And if you know of particularly innovative solutions that are coming to market, I'd love to hear about them!

*For the record, I coined the term Business Integrated Insight and drew the first architectural diagram in an August 2009 white paper sponsored by Teradata

Posted August 5, 2010 12:16 PM
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