Real-time data warehousing hurdles

Although there’s big buzz among IT managers about creating real-time systems that can consolidate important business information into data warehouses for rapid analysis and reporting, a panel of users in Boston last summer warned that considerable obstacles remain.

For example, companies need to develop a business case for real-time integration before investing in projects, said Bob Leo, director of database administration at Landstar System Inc. The Jacksonville, Fla.-based transportation services company applies a real-time approach only in applications where it’s really needed, Leo said, adding that the company’s goal is to provide whatever type of data updates are required by end users – whether it’s monthly, nightly, hourly or real-time.

“A lot of what we’re doing is revolving around our ability to move information from our disparate systems and get that into people’s hands and make the information really usable in their everyday jobs,” Leo said. “We do things in IT not because we can, but because the business needs us to.”

Landstar uses data integration tools developed by Ascential Software Corp. to share information across a Web-based network used by independent truckers, shipping agents and customers. Westboro, Mass.-based Ascential sponsored the panel discussion, which was held as part of The Data Warehousing Institute’s TDWI World Conference here.

Stephen Zander, director of operations and technology for enterprise solutions and services at McKesson Corp. in San Francisco, said the health care company typically makes transaction data available to end users for analysis within 24 hours.

One big issue with real-time data warehouse feeds is that the company loses its “grace period” for cleaning up data to ensure that the information is accurate, he said.

Much of the work that goes into managing a data warehouse involves fixing bad data that might have originated “10 systems away,” according to Zander. To minimize such problems, he said, McKesson’s IT staff works with the company’s finance and billing departments to ensure that the data fields in their applications are properly filled in from the start.

McKesson uses several Ascential tools, along with SAP AG’s Business Information Warehouse software, as part of its data warehousing operations.