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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!

Following on from a previous discussion on the need for integrated information in modern business, and the focus on a consolidated process in my last post, I'd like to complete the picture here with a look at the role of people in the Business Intelligence of the future.

Traditional BI typically sees people in two roles.  First, they are the largely passive and individual receivers of information via reports or even dashboards.  Once that information is delivered, the classic BI tool bows out; even though the real value of the process comes only when the decision is made and the required action initiated.  Furthermore, the traditional BI process fails to link the action taken to results that can be measured in the real world, overlooking the vital concept of sense and respond described in my last post.  These two glaring omissions, among others, in the current BI world lead directly to the relatively poor proven return on investment in many BI projects.

Second, BI treats people as largely disconnected providers of "information requirements" to the BI development process, often leading to failed or, at best, disappointing BI solutions for real user needs.  Agile BI approaches do address this problem to some extent.  However, the real issue is that the process of innovative decision making is largely iterative with final information needs often differing radically from initial ideas on what the requirements may be.  The path from such innovative analyses to ongoing production reporting using the discovered metrics is also poorly understood and seldom delivered by most current BI tools.

The good news is that many of these issues are central to the techniques and tools of Web 2.0, social networking and related developments.  However, simply adding a chat facility or document sharing to an existing BI tool is insufficient.  To truly deliver BI for the People, we require a significant rethinking of the framework in which BI is developed and delivered.  This framework includes (1) a well-managed and bounded social environment where users can safely experiment with information and collaborate on their analyses, (2) support for peer review and promotion to production of analyses of wider or longer-term value, and (3) an adaptive, closed-loop environment where changes in the real-world can be directly linked to actions taken and thus to the value of the analyses performed.

Today's users are of a different generation to those BI has previously supported.  Gereration Y (born 1980-2000, or thereabouts, depending on which social scientist you follow) is the first generation to have grown up with pervasive electronic connectivity and collaboration in their personal lives.  They bring these expectations, as well as some very different social norms, into the business world, and are now beginning to assume positions of decision-making responsibility in their organizations.  They are set to demand radical changes in the way we make and support decisions in business.

I'll be discussing these issues at three seminars I'm presenting on the transformation of BI into Enterprise IT Integration in Europe: a half day each in Copenhagen and Helsinki (4 and 5 April) and a full two-day deep dive in Rome (11-12 April).  

Posted March 29, 2011 3:56 AM
Permalink | 3 Comments |


All true.

Some vendors are beginning to see the value in this.

I also like the idea of guides, where someone, or a group, develops a thread of analysis/reasoning and can easily provide a more or less animated replay of it for viewing, comment and even elaboration.

This Gen Y is interested in the "experience" of using technology, hence, lessons learned from Web 2.0 are crucial.

What I don't know is how any of this is possible without a more useful representational framework of data, models, ideas, connections, etc. The only possibility I see is the application of semantic technology/ontology.


Well I must admit that I agree with Barry that a new generation is coming of age. And I agree that that generation has another 'style of dealing with technology'. But, but or this implies that they will develop a complete other style of working and dealing with each other in an organization 'polluted' with 'officepolitics' and 'selfinterest'??? And do'nt forget each new generation will cliam to do things and behave different compared with the previous one. And has that really happened??? Well maybe I'm just an oldfashioned and sceptical European guy who has been around in different businesses for the last almost 50 years and will this new generation indeed bring about true changes in the way businesses are managed and people cooperate. And yes as for the technologyset which Barry describes that will be used and deployed.

Niel, Thanks for you comment. I fully agree with you statement about the need for "a more useful representational framework of data, models, ideas, connections, etc." The use of semantic technology/ontology will certainly be important. But, I believe we will need some new and deeper insights into how people actually think, emote and behave in business. I am aware only of some limited work in this field by sociologists, phychologists, neuroscientists, etc. Any input on this would be appreciated!

Ad, Thanks for your comment also. Your concern about office politics and self-interest is very valid. Of course, this doesn't fundamentally change. And they cannot be ignored... So, my response above to Neil is also relevant here. The most obvious aspect of BI that generation Y will bring to the fore, in my view, will be technology-assisted collaboration. I believe that will have some affect on behavior as interactions, cause and effect, etc. become more transparent.

By the way, I'm also a bit of an "old-fashioned and sceptical European guy" too :-)

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