Teradata aims for simpler management

Companies want a single, accurate version of the truth about their customers, sales and revenues. Assembling a lot of mismatched jigsaw puzzle pieces into some semblance of a coherent whole is increasingly unacceptable.

That was one of the main messages coming out of Teradata’s 2005 Partners User Group Conference and Expo held Sept. 19-22 in Orlando, Fla. A division of NCR Corp. based in Dayton, Ohio, Teradata offers enterprise data warehousing (EDW), analytic applications and data warehousing services.

Now in its 19th year, the conference programs and workshops are selected and managed in their entirety by Teradata’s users. Three thousand delegates from around the globe attended this year, the largest showing ever.

In a kickoff speech, Mike Koehler, senior vice-president of Teradata, explained this year’s overarching theme, Explore the Possibilities. Technology blurs physical, temporal and geographical boundaries, he said, which removes limitations on business opportunities.

Koehler also introduced Teradata’s new president and CEO, Bill Nuti, who pointed out that Teradata is putting its money where its mouth is to secure a leading position in the EDW market: the company has invested over US$1 billion over the past five years in technology development.

A high point of the conference was a lively session presented by Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert cartoons, to an adoring crowd. With tongue firmly in cheek, Adams told the tale of his peculiar life’s journey from cubicle-dweller to cartoonist. Busted for lifting some management gobbledygook from a memo and using it verbatim in a cartoon, Adams was placed on a series of doomed projects to inspire him to quit. The strategy backfired, as it only served to provide yet more excellent grist for his cartoon-generating mill.

Underneath the hilarity, Adams’s session hinted at the true management, people and process limitations to technology that were explored later in many of the candid user sessions.

Change management issues are huge, said Diane Drotos, director of Business Intelligence at Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), who shared some practical lessons learned in the company’s EDW implementation.

For example, a straightforward business question like “How many toasters did we sell last year?” could result in five different answers from HBC’s five banners (The Bay, Zellers, Home Outfitters, Designer Depot and Fields). In attempts to integrate the information, Drotos’s team discovered underlying inconsistencies in the business rules applied — gross margin for one business unit was defined and computed differently from another.

In like fashion, exception reporting meant different things to different people. When the EDW started producing new consolidated exception reports, users accustomed to seeing all the underlying raw data initially distrusted the information. Earning their trust was a slow process, said Drotos, accomplished by accommodating their requests for extra data and developing an exception report highlighting system using colours and symbols.

Mark Lahr, manager of IT integration services at St. Paul, Minn.-based 3M Corp., also emphasized management issues in his session on the evolution of 3M’s EDW over the past decade. Data warehousing has proven its utility at 3M over the years, from providing product data for its first Web site to helping the company sniff out US$700 million in cost reductions in recent years.

On the technology development front, Teradata made some new product and partner announcements at the conference. The latest enhancements to Teradata Warehouse 8.1 simplify system management, improve enterprise integration and fortify security, the company said. Enhancements have also been made to extend the range and analytical capabilities of financial management functions in all its Logical Data Models.

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