Hauling info from the data warehouse

Don’t think real-time. Think right-time.

That’s the advice Stephen Brobst, CTO of data warehousing vendor Teradata, gave to attendees at the Think Big Data Warehousing conference in Toronto this month.

Sponsored by Adastra, a Markham, Ont.-based business intelligence (BI) and data integration company, the one-day event brought together attendees from the business and IT sides of the equation to discuss trends and best practices around data warehousing, SOA, data profiling and data mining.

In a keynote address looking at current trends in enterprise data warehousing, Teradata’s Brobst said we’ve become very good at collecting data but that’s not the goal. Information must be the goal. “We’ve created more data in the last three years than in all 40,000 years of previous human history,” said Brobst. “Do you think that’s true about information? Probably not.”

What turns data into information is how it’s exploited, but Brobst said the market leaders have moved beyond simple strategic BI, such as static reports. Companies like Wal-Mart are integrating the information gleaned through BI directly into their business processes, a trend known as operational BI.

No matter how often you update your data warehouse, Brobst said once you begin updating it more than once a day a “fundamental paradigm shift” has taken place, because you’ve eliminated the batch overnight cycle.

Before, businesses would have to shut down their data warehouse overnight, cram in all the new data and integrate the system, then open up for business again in the morning.

But if you’re updating the data warehouse multiple times per day you have to do it on the fly, without taking the system offline.

Once you’ve made that transition, Brobst said updating the data warehouse faster is just like turning a lever. The hard part isn’t the technology, he said, it’s the business process change.

Brobst added it’s not delivering faster reports with more up-to-date data that’s going to generate business savings; it’s integrating that data into your business processes.

“If I give you that data within two minutes what are you going to do with it?” said Brobst.

In her keynote address, consultant Claudia Imhoff of Intelligent Solutions in Phoenix agreed that more and more BI is bring pushed into the operational side of the business.

She added that BI without the ability to act on it is really an academic exercise.

“So what if I know who my best customers are?” asked Imhoff. “When they call in, if the frontline people don’t know who the best customers are, then what’s the point?”

Imhoff said BI is no longer a luxury. But before companies head down the BI path, Imhoff said it’s important that they have an architecture in mind.

You can’t build it all at once, but Imhoff added it’s important that you know where you’re going.

“There’s a saying I grew up with and that’s, ‘If you’re lost in the woods, any path will do,’” said Imhoff. “If you don’t have an architecture, you’re going to start building chaos.”

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