Over the last 10 years, decision support has evolved from the "hottest" new industry buzzword to a technology that has demonstrated that it can provide significant value to a corporation. Now as decision support moves into the 21st century, we are maturing in ways we never anticipated. It's critical to understand these trends, as they will impact most every corporation. In this month's column, we will look at these trends that are currently changing data warehousing or will occur over the next 12 months and make some predictions.

Decision Support Moves Beyond the Global 2000

I believe that we are starting to see a strong influx of middle-tier and small-tier corporations looking to build their own decision support systems. For the most part, data warehousing has been exclusively reserved for the Global 2000 companies of the world. As the owner of a consulting company, rarely did smaller companies contact us to work with them to construct a decision support system. However, within the last three months, I have received calls from several smaller firms looking to construct their own data warehouse.

Global 2000 companies have proven that decision support systems yield strong returns and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In fact, the industries that first entered the decision support arena (retail, banks, insurance, healthcare, telecommunications, etc.) have grown to depend on their warehouses on a day-to-day basis. Another factor fueling this adoption is that decision support software is becoming a commodity. In fact, with the emergence of Microsoft in the decision support market, the cost of software is becoming affordable within the IT (information technology) budget of these smaller businesses.

Current Decision Support Systems are Reengineered

As we discuss the emergence of middle-tier to small-tier companies, it is important to understand that many of the Global 2000 companies will be doing more than their fair share of data warehousing. During the 1990s, corporations raced to build their decision support systems as quickly as they could. Unfortunately, in their zeal to do this, too many of these organizations neglected to build the architecture necessary to grow their systems over time. In many cases, these companies built independent data marts, which are data marts that are directly sourced from operational systems without a data warehouse. Because a data warehouse provides the necessary architecture that allows data marts to scale to meet the ever-growing needs of their business, many of these corporations will move to address this fundamental weakness in their decision support systems now that the Y2K issues are behind us.

Proliferation of Advanced Decision Support Architectures

Those corporations that have been successful in their decision support efforts will look to implement more advanced decision support architectures. Global 2000 companies will want to integrate their customer relationship management (CRM) and e-business initiatives with their decision support systems to provide new levels of business intelligence. In addition, these same corporations will want to implement more closed-loop decision support systems which capture information from their business users and feed that information back into their operational systems.

A Data Warehousing Meta Data Standard is Reached

Industry standard meta data models are critical to allow the various decision support tools to share their data with one another. I believe that the Meta Data Coalition (backed by Microsoft, Computer Associates and others) and the Object Management Group (backed by Oracle, IBM, Hyperion, Unisys and others) will decide to work together to make one meta data standard for data warehousing a reality. They will realize that it is best for the industry and best for each of them and declare mutual victory in this arena.

One thing that will not change in the upcoming year is that those decision support systems that provide the greatest benefit to their companies will be the ones that provide definable and measurable business value to the enterprise. Don't start or expand a data warehouse initiative for the "glory" of doing it. Start one of these initiatives to add value to your corporation. Do this and all of us will have a fantastic 2000 and beyond.

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