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The CIF Evolution

Originally published October 27, 2004

First there were operational, transaction processing systems. Then there was a data warehouse. Next came ETL, followed by data marts.

In the early days, the Corporate Information Factory (CIF) was developed to make sense of the architectural components. At first it was simple. It was just a few of these components strung together in a logical way. That was back in the early 1990s. Since then the logical or conceptual CIF, like the rest of technology, has evolved.

Ever since Claudia Imhoff and I sat down and tried to make sense of what was going on in the mid-1990s, there has been a formal CIF. In some cases, we presented the CIF as part of a seminar or a class. In other cases, we wrote a book on the subject. Sometimes we did a wall chart that appeared as an insert in a magazine. And in every case, the CIF grew in order to reflect changing times and the evolution of technology. However, it was still a logical or conceptual view of what the BI architecture should emulate. The CIF is a dynamic concept that changes with the times. In fact, over time different logical components are added to the CIF. To date, we have not removed a component nor have we changed the positioning of a component.

It is important to note that how you physically implement the CIF is up to you and the technological environment you develop. Every now and then, a new technology comes along that alters the perception of the physical version of the CIF. It is with this in mind that we present this physical version of the CIF through the sponsorship of CenterBoard and the B-EYE-Network.

As is the norm, the logical or conceptual CIF remains the same. This is good because the reliability of the CIF represents a certain amount of stability in our industry. But there are some important new additions to the physical version of the CIF, which include:

  • The virtual operational data store (VODS). The promise of the VODS is to produce a more flexible ODS environment. You can query data from different sources in order to create a VODS. You do not need a single, preconditioned physical body of data to create a VODS, i.e., CenterBoard. Therefore, a VODS is highly flexible. Of course, your results are transitory with a VODS. If you do a query at 10 a.m. and then another query on the same data at 11 a.m. the results may or may not be the same. On the other hand, you do not have to build a massive infrastructure in order to have a VODS. If you have one query and you don’t like the results, you can change the query and reformulate it. Now that’s flexibility.
  • Unstructured data. Prior to this rendition of the CIF, the only data that was found was structured data. Now there is unstructured data (email, and email attachments such as, pdf, txt, doc files, etc.) that are part of the CIF. Unstructured data is as legitimate a source of data as structured data. However the rules of the road for accessing, handling, and integrating unstructured data are quite different from structured data. The primary ingredient for controlling unstructured data is an ETL tool, i.e., Inmon Data Systems. (Yes, ETL.) The only problem is that the ETL for unstructured data is entirely different than the ETL for structured data. Trying to fit an existing ETL tool for structured data to meet the needs for unstructured data is like trying to solder a Winnebago onto the belly of a jet.
  • Unstructured Visualization. The world of visualization is dominated by business intelligence (BI). But one important area with regard to BI is the manipulation of numbers – addition, subtraction, drill down, drill across, etc. But unstructured systems are not about numbers at all. Unstructured systems require text. There is new and exciting technology, i.e., Compudigm, that handles textual visualization. Textual visualization is as large a breakthrough as BI was in its day. Again, textual and unstructured visualization is as fundamentally different from BI as unstructured ETL is from structured ETL.

So that’s it. Those are the new technological additions to consider in implementing the CIF. Now the technology supporting the CIF is even more encompassing and up-to-date.

  • 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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