Perhaps the most important findings of our Database Solutions study series over the last three years addressed the plans espoused by a majority of business and government users to open up their warehouses to access by virtually everyone that dealt with their enterprises. A typical response went something like this: "Maybe 500 people throughout our organization access the warehouse today, but in a few years we expect to see 100,000 or more customers, suppliers and/or employees access at least some of this information."

Hopping on this bandwagon, well-known tools vendor MicroStrategy has leapfrogged this trend by bringing into play something it calls the Telepath Network. Now read carefully, the concept may be a bit hard to follow. As I write this, several weeks in advance of the formal product launch, I am (sadly) unable to plagiarize the company's brochures since they have yet to be written. I am thus forced to make this up as I go along. However, I plan to send MicroStrategy's public relations department a bill when this is finished.

Picture this: MicroStrategy builds its own data warehouses based on data and other content purchased from a variety of information suppliers. It then goes to an enterprise like yours and mine, called a network affiliate, and says, "Let's do a deal under which your company will offer your customers access to our warehouses. You get to offer this service as a value-add to your customers which will endear them to you forevermore." Once an affiliate offers its customers this service, the affiliate's competitors are likely to follow suit (MicroStrategy hopes) in order not to be at a competitive disadvantage. Pretty neat, huh?

The services to be offered on the Telepath Network are aimed at the consumer. Six "channels" are currently offered or in the works. They are investment, general news, business news, sports, weather and traffic.

An example: The affiliate is Shady Investments, Ltd. Ol' Shady wants to one-up arch enemies Chuckie Swab and e-Gouge, so he gives his customers and close personal friends access to the Telepath Network's Investment Channel, thereby enabling them to get the investment-related information they want, when they want it, in the format they want, using their choice of delivery media.

When I heard about this, my first question ­ yours, too, I bet ­ was, "What's different about this product and all that 'push technology' currently in the process of joining the dodo in never-never land?"

The answer is that Telepath-delivered content is based on true data warehouses and sophisticated OLAP and reporting tools. Thus, the end user can specify a great deal about what it is he wants to see in his ultimate deliverables. Further, Telepath channel-based information can be delivered via e-mail, files (typically Excel spreadsheets), pager, mobile phone, fax, wired telephone and/or personal digital assistant (PDA).

You might well ask, "How did an upstart company like MicroStrategy decide to try its hand at a business one might think would be more likely offered by the likes of Ted Turner?" The answer is that the company sees it as a logical extension of its decision support solutions business coupled with its DSS Broadcaster product announced late last year. DSS Broadcaster provides the ability to distribute information from multiple data sources in a choice of formats in response to user-defined alert triggers. It is equipped with a "personalization engine" that allows each user to specify his own requirements independently.

In addition to the information residing in MicroStrategy's warehouses, an affiliate can customize the offering. For example, the affliate can add data from its own sources or provide specialized analytic capabilities that can be exercised by the ultimate user. An affiliate also could sell ad space on its deliverables so the process could generate revenue and/or profits.

MicroStrategy is convinced that the next big media wave is the "personal information network." Lots of other people think the same thing, but success has eluded all of the attempts to provide it thus far. I strongly believe that if this nirvana is going to be achieved within the next few years, it will be built on the current foundation of business intelligence and data warehousing technologies. In this case, the "build it and they will come" concept seems to have particular relevance.

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