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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!

Stopwatch.pngOver the past few years, we've heard increasingly that business needs ever more up-to-the-minute information to compete effectively.  First mover advantage, sometimes equated with technological leadership, is frequently cited as a driving force for business success, especially in new or emerging market segments, where the first entrant can gain early control of resources that followers miss.  In BI, this thinking drives a number of distinct patterns.

The first pattern, which has been around for some time now, is operational, or near real-time, BI.  The premise is that ever earlier identification of patterns and trends in customer behavior or needs allows the business to respond faster and thus gain competitive advantage.  A second, more recent, example is seen in big data, where advanced data mining and analytic techniques are applied to clickstream and other web-sourced information on an ongoing basis for similar purposes as in operational BI.  The data sources and tools are different; but the driving thought is the same.

Such thinking, as well as exciting success stories or interesting discoveries, has led many people to the conclusion that the business value of BI is centered on timeliness.  We see this in BI tools and appliances that offer ever faster load, access and query speeds.  We observe it in the self-service argument--who has the time to wait for IT to deliver?  We can hear it in arguments for agile BI, whether in development or in use.  

The focus on timeliness and the value it can deliver is very fair, of course.  Especially, given the history of data warehousing development where we have encountered extended delivery times.  It is particularly appealing to unfortunate business users who sit in front of BI screens waiting for the paint to dry while their query plods on in some treacle-like database.  However, that is only half the story.

Let me pose you a question.   Which would your business users prefer:
1.    The wrong answer immediately
2.    The right answer too late, or
3.    A "sufficiently correct" answer "soon enough" to affect the outcome of decision-making?
I suspect most will opt for answer number 3.

This search for a sufficiently right and timely enough answers leads directly to the other central driver of BI--consistency.  Once upon a time, in the early days of days of data warehousing, consistency was the primary goal for the data warehouse.  Its ultimate expression is in the now well-worn phrase, "a single version of the truth".  And it's to that phrase I'll turn in part 2 of this post.

And check out my upcoming webinar, "Business Intelligence: the Quicker, the Better", on October 25th, which will also address this issue.

Posted October 12, 2011 8:21 AM
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