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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!

JackBe's CTO, John Crupi, and VP of Marketing, Chris Warner, created a definitional firestorm among BI experts at the BBBT on Friday.  A long-time Ajax and Enterprise Mashup Platform provider, JackBe has more recently begun to describe itself as a Real-Time Intelligence provider.  That was always going to be a phrase that generated excited discussion.

First, what is Real-Time?  In the case of JackBe, it relates more to immediate access, both in definition and use, to existing sources of data than to the more conventional BI use of the term, which focuses more on how current that data is.  As a mashup, JackBe's Presto product doesn't actually care how current the data it accesses is.  The source could be an operational application, a data warehouse, a spreadsheet, a web resource or whatever--clearly a wide range of data latency (and reliability,too!).  So, the important idea that BI practitioners have to get their heads around is that Real-Time in this context is about giving business users fast and nimble access to existing data sources.

As a mashup, and coming from the Web 2.0 world, the second thing we need to recognize is that JackBe allows end users to combine information in innovative ways into dashboard-like constructs themselves.  In function, mashups are similar to more traditional portals, but use the more flexible tooling and constructs of Web 2.0, enabling users to do more for themselves without calling on IT.  JackBe thus enables self-service BI, provided that accessible information resources already exist.  Presto provides the means to find those sources, the ability to link them together and the robust security required to ensure users can access only what they are allowed to.

As with all approaches to self-service business intelligence, the most challenging aspect for BI practitioners is to understand and even regulate the validity of the results produced.  Does it make logical business sense to combine sources A and B?  Does source A contain data from the same timeframe as source C?  Does profit margin in source B have the exact same definition as that in source D?  And so on.  These are the types of questions that lead to the creation of a data warehouse; resolving them leads to the typical delays in delivering data warehouses.

The bottom line is that JackBe provides a powerful tool to drive rapid innovation by end users in business intelligence.  Given the speed of change in today's business, that has to be a good thing.  But, as is the case when any powerful tool is put in the hands of a user, there is a danger of severely burnt fingers!  The BI department must therefore put processes in place to help users know if the information they want is really suitable for mashing up.  In practice, this will require either the creation of extensive metadata to describe the available information sources or the provision of a robust help desk facility to explain to users what's possible and even what went wrong.

Posted January 30, 2011 10:16 AM
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