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People Say the Darndest Things About Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence

Originally published February 26, 2009

The other day, I was having a beer with some cohorts. We got to reminiscing about the past and came up with some very silly things that people have said in our industry. The really disturbing thing about this list is that these things were said in all seriousness by people who were in a position of responsibility. And as you will see, that is really frightening. So here goes.

  1. Once I was doing a presentation for a storage company. This was in the early days of data warehousing. I happened to be speaking to the person that was – at that time – the head of strategic planning for storage products. I was describing this new phenomenon – data warehousing. The gentleman closed our meeting by saying:

    “I don’t see any relationship between the demand for storage products and data warehousing.”

    Today, data warehousing and business intelligence have a marketplace of $28 billion annually. A while back, total expenditures for data warehousing and business intelligence surpassed that of OLTP operational spending. (As a side note, Fortune magazine comes out with their best managed companies and their worst managed companies each year. The company in question – before it was bought – was perennially one of the worst managed companies. It had even been suggested by some that this company was the worst managed company of all time.)

  2. The other day I was doing a presentation for an engineering executive of a petroleum company. The presentation was on using unstructured information for improving safety systems for pipelines and refineries. About halfway through the presentation the executive said:

    “Safety really isn’t an issue at our petroleum company. I don’t see why we need to spend our time thinking about safety for our pipelines and refineries.”

    Now, everyone is certainly entitled to his or her opinion. But it is of interest that this company lost a refinery in Houston Texas in 2006. The company lost an estimated $100,000,000 and five people were killed. One wonders what it takes to wake the engineering and executive staff of this petroleum company.

  3. A long time ago, industry conventional wisdom had it that programming was about to become a universal thing in the corporation. In fact, the visionaries had it that:

    “One day even secretaries will be writing COBOL.”

    One hopes that those secretaries hung in there long enough to reap the bonanza that could be had leading up to Y2K. If one recalls, there was an acute shortage of COBOL programmers and for a brief while and those that were programmers were vaulted to the top of the pay scale. One wonders how many of the COBOL programmers were former secretaries.

  4. Productivity has always been an issue when it comes to building systems. There have been all sorts of schemes to get the most out of talent, given that talent is chronically in short supply. So it has always been a quest for the Holy Grail when it comes to achieving higher productivity. In line with the thirst for the ultimate in productivity, not so long ago we heard:

    “Get a 1000% increase in productivity by using a 4GL language.”

    This is the most superficial and the most simplistic of statements. If the issue had been cranking out code, then there might have been some basis for the statement. But cranking out code is not the barrier to access and usage of information. Instead, there are other massive barriers to getting at information, including:

    Integrated data. All the coding in the world is not going to replace the existence of integrated data.

    Historical data. You can code at lightning speeds, but if you need historical data and can’t find it, then all the coding speed in the world does you no good.

    Granular data. Granular data can be reshaped in many different ways. But if your data is not granular, then coding speed is a moot point.

    Data quality. And the list goes on.

    Coding speed is one of the most superficial architectural issues that there is. This is like saying to a sprinter, “Improve your speed in the dash by changing the color of your socks.”

  5. The other day, the subject of data marts came up. Thousands of people use data marts, to great effect. Combined with a data warehouse, data marts facilitate user access and analysis. It was with wonder that I heard a vendor say:

    “You don’t need data marts. But if you have to have them, keep them on the same machine as your data warehouse.”

    If ever there were self-serving design advice, it is this. The only organization being served by saying this is the hardware the vendor, certainly not the client. There are many good reasons to have a data mart and to have the data mart reside on technology other than the data warehouse. Some of those reasons are:

    Economics. The most expensive hardware cycles that you have are the ones for the largest processors. Moving data marts off to smaller servers reduces the total cost of the business intelligence environment.

    Politics. Organizations like having their own computers. They can control them and do what they need to do with them. By placing data marts off to smaller servers, organizations can map their needs with their own computers.

    Tuning. Separating data marts off to smaller servers allows each data mart to be tuned specifically for the needs of the owning organizations.

This is just a short list of silly things that people have said over the years. I find it amazing that anyone ever took them seriously.

  • 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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