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Corporate Data: A Brief History

Originally published January 28, 2010

Corporations are discovering that they need corporate data in order to act as a corporation and to make appropriate and timely decisions. Without corporate data, corporations act like a house divided – one part of the organization marches in one direction and another part of the organization marches in another. This just is not good policy.

It is like having the Eagles singing rock, Aretha Franklin singing soul, Shania Twain singing country and Glenn Miller playing swing music – all at once. All of these artists are talented and are quite capable of making wonderful music, but not if they are all playing their music at once.

Let’s consider a brief history of corporate data.

1960s: In  the 1960s, the world was focused on early applications and master files. It is fair to say that corporate data was simply a theory in this decade.

1970s: In this decade, DBMS and online applications were born. Suddenly, the computer began to be tightly wound into the corporation. Online transactions appeared everywhere – in airlines, banks, pharmaceuticals, financial institutions, insurance companies, manufacturers, etc. Suddenly the corporation found that it could not process day to day business activities without the computer. But for all the value of online applications, corporate data was still a gleam in the eye of the IT organization.

1980s: The 1980s represent the golden age of the PC. With the PC and the spreadsheet, the organization put data and control of the data directly in the hands of the end user. For years, the end users had cried out to be the masters of their own destiny. For years, end users wailed about the tyranny of the IT organization. And with the appearance of the PC and the spreadsheet, the organization found that it could afford to take its technology destiny into its own hands. No longer was the IT department the sole source and provider of information. Now the end user was free to do what he or she wished.

The problem was that by taking control of their own destiny, end users discovered that controlling your own data and spreadsheet processing was not quite all it was cracked up to be. The end user was exposed to the issue of the believability and accuracy of data. Just because the end user had the data did not necessarily mean that the data was accurate, timely or correct.

This discovery – that controlling data was not the same thing as being able to make decisions with the data – crept into the end user organization like a thief in the night. In simple case after simple case, end users discovered that they had departmental data, not corporate data. While there was no corporate data in the 1980s to speak of, the seeds had been sewn for enlightenment.

1990s: With the 1990s came the recognition of the need for integration. By this time, applications had aged and needed maintenance. The original purpose for the writing of the application had changed and most applications reflected the business requirements of an earlier day and age. And other information needs were surfacing – the need for historical data, the need for integrated data, the need for agility of information systems, and so forth. It was in this decade that the seeds for corporate data began to bear fruit. The most obvious way that the seeds of corporate data sprang forth was in the building of the data warehouse. Organizations that built data warehouses were discovering the delicious fruits of corporate data.

But there were many forces pressing against corporate data. End users had built up their own empires by now and were reluctant to accept another approach to managing data, whatever shortfalls there might be with their current approach. The vendors of data mart technology tried to confuse people into thinking that a data mart was the same thing as a data warehouse. The DBMS vendors looked askance at data warehouses because the concept of a data warehouse had not begun within their confines. In total there was stiff resistance to the idea of corporate data. Nevertheless, corporations began to look at their existing information environments and realize that there indeed was a better way to process and manage their information. The candle had been lit. And the candle was destined to turn into a bright bonfire.

2000s: For all of the hassle and flack created by the naysayers, data warehouse and corporate data began to flourish in 2000. There simply was no substitute for corporate data. Once a corporation had experienced corporate data, there was no turning back.

But a great accelerator for corporate data appeared in the most unlikely of places – compliance. The decade from 2000 to 2010 was marked by the corporate disgraces of Enron, MCI/WorldCom, Arthur Andersen, and others. The reaction to corporate malfeasance was governance and compliance. Compliance came in many forms – HIPAA, Basel II, and Sarbanes Oxley, among others. And with compliance in its many forms came not the recognition of the value of corporate data but the legal enforcement of corporate data. Stated differently, without corporate data you cannot do much of what is required for compliance.

This concludes a short introduction to corporate data.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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