In an effort to reduce cost and minimize risks, an increasingly large number of organizations are choosing to buy rather than build software for their business needs. It is very likely that this trend will continue and broaden into the realm of decision support. This means that in the near future, packaged decision support products will offer viable alternatives to "home grown" data mart and data warehouse applications.

When these products become widely available, IT shops will have to make build or buy decisions when planning to meet their data warehousing needs. Like any new product category, the packaged data mart market will be filled with confusion and conflicting vendor claims. As a result, deciding if one of these off-the-shelf products makes sense for your organization will be a confusing endeavor. In an effort to make your build or buy decision easier, this month we'll gaze into our crystal ball and examine the various types of products that are likely to emerge.

Data Mart Design Template

The first type of packaged solution is the data mart design template. A design template is a data model created to address the generic analytic needs of a given vertical industry. These templates consist of the DDL needed to create the data marts' tables and documentation describing how to customize the design to suit your specific needs.

There are several template products available today. They are most often available from consultants and systems integrators that have experience in a particular vertical industry. Design templates can provide substantial benefit if they adequately match your business needs and are not overly expensive. When considering the purchase of a design template for your data mart, keep in mind that the preponderance of development work required to deliver a working system still falls on your shoulders.


The second type of packaged data mart product is the "mart-in-the-box." This class of product is designed as an add-on to large financial, ERP or HR packages that have become so popular over the last several years. These products will be offered by the large package vendors themselves who see an opportunity to continue their phenomenal sales growth through extension of their product lines.

The business rationale for the "mart-in-the-box" is hard to resist. For example, if you have already integrated your financial operations using vendor A's financial software, why not buy vendor A's accompanying data mart product? Although it will probably require some customization, the add-on data mart will still provide time, cost and risk advantages when compared to starting from scratch and building the mart yourself.

Third-Party Data Mart

The final category of packaged decision support application is the third-party data mart. This type of product is designed to compete directly with the "mart-in-the-box" offerings. Typically, the third-party mart will consist of a generic set of star schemas and a core set of extraction, transformation and loading (ETL) code targeted at a specific vertical industry. These products will be able to run on any of the popular RDBMS platforms and will have to be customized to suit your specific needs.

The challenge for the creators of such a product is to automate as much of the required customization as possible. If high levels of automation are achievable, this type of package offers the benefits of a pre-built solution coupled with the flexibility to easily adapt to your organization's specific needs. If the customization required for these products is very difficult and time intensive, their benefits will be negligible.

A Natural Progression

This trend toward packaged decision support products does not represent a drastic shift in the economic or technical evolution of the IT industry. It is simply the next step in the natural progression toward the availability of information solutions rather than simply information technology.

When considering the buy or build question, you should keep in mind that integration between packaged data mart products remains a formidable challenge. No matter which of the three types of solutions you choose, integration will be left up to you. For this reason alone, you should think very carefully before buying an "off-the-shelf" product to meet your decision support needs.

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