If you work in IT, you better like alphabet soup: master data management (MDM); customer data integration (CDI); corporate performance management (CPM); business intelligence (BI); enterprise application information (EAI); enterprise integration information (EII); extract, transform and load (ETL); Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX); and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

We get new acronyms each year. Analysts, vendors and consultants rattle them off in articles and client discussions. Faced with an unfamiliar term you might feel dumb, then investigate and find it is just data integration wrapped up in new acronyms. Sometimes it is a new approach, but often it is a new term for an old method. Maybe the old approach sputtered due to lack of disk I/O or network capacity was abandoned and forgotten, and has now been resurrected with a new name.

Breathing new life into old concepts is invigorating but can carry risks. It is risky when a concept doesn't leverage past lessons and repeats past mistakes. Parochialism is another risk, blinding people to the fact that their problems are actually the same as other people's problems.

I am always explaining to people in one industry that every other industry also has similar data issues, and they could learn from other successful data implementations regardless of what industry they are in. It is amazing that even people in different divisions in the same company can think they have unique issues and, therefore, work in data silos. It is a recipe for overlapping data warehouses, data marts and business intelligence efforts.

Old Concepts with New Names

As for old concepts with new names, let's start with inconsistent dimensional data, such as product or part numbers. Now it is called MDM. We've been dealing with this for more than a decade in data warehousing and BI - calling it conforming dimensions. We called it making consistent reference data in the 1980s.

Consistent customer data across the enterprise is not new, either, but it has a new name: CDI. Remember 360 degrees of the customer? The customer relationship management (CRM) folks keep inventing new terms for integrating customer data because their stovepipe applications (call centers, campaign management, sales force automation, etc.) lend themselves to keeping customer data fragmented. They stovepipe it and then build applications to put it back together!

Data Integration is the Commonality

What do all these problems have in common? It's all about the data - data integration. Some of these acronyms are nothing more than data integration applied to a specific subject area - MDM or CDI - or business process.

Some new names just describe the use of new or different technology to achieve data integration - such as EAI, EII and Web services rather than ETL. It is still data integration. Source-to-target mapping as well as data transformation according to business rules - that's not new, regardless of the transportation used or whether it is real time or batch.

It is the same story with databases. In the old days, you needed to understand how data was stored on disk, but now the database handles it. At some point you'll do data integration and won't worry about whether ETL, EAI, EII or something else is performing the data integration. You'll concentrate on what you are trying to do, not how the underlying tools are performing the processes.

Business requirements such as SOX and financial transparency depend on data integration, but who realizes that? Instead, we're investing in the development of new applications. We're hung up on software and buzzwords instead of concentrating on data integration. Data warehousing isn't old fashioned, even if the terminology changes over time.

It's all about the data. Let's continue to discuss new and old trends, methods, best practices and what is important as we cut through the acronym alphabet soup to get to the important issues.

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