Editor’s Note: We are pleased to introduce Jonathan Wu, cofounder of BASE Consulting Group (now Knightsbridge Solutions), to our exclusive list of online columnists. Wu has 12 years of business advisory and systems consulting experience and has contributed to the development of the Data Warehousing Certificate Program at the University of California, Berkeley Extension. Each month he will share his experiences with BI technology in order to offer solutions to the challenges facing the business intelligence industry.
We are living in a period where the abundance and quality of information has never been so readily available. Information on business, local and world news can be easily obtained via the Internet, publications, television and radio. How did we get here? The information age we are enjoying is fostered by the rapid development of technology that has transpired during the last 25 years. The following significant developments are events that have contributed to our current wealth of information:
- In the early 1970s, Dr. E.F. Codd developed the relational database model which provided the means of storing data and manipulating data in a format that is more accessible than mainframe technology.
- In the mid-1970s, Apple Computer developed the first personal computer, which started the industry.
- In 1979, Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston created the first electronic spreadsheet called VisiCalc for the Apple II, demonstrating that the personal computer was more than a toy and could be used in business.
- In the early 1980s, local area networks were developed which connected personal computers. The ability to network personal computers provided the means of communication and sharing of information. In addition, data storage devices were being developed that could store more than just kilobytes of data.
- In the mid-1980s, the infrastructure that supports the Internet as we know it today was in its early stages of development. In addition, enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications were being developed and implemented. These applications provided organizations with the ability to account for and process their transactions from all segments of their business.
- In the early 1990s, software applications were developed that provided end users with the ability to easily extract data from databases without having to manually develop programming code. These applications are the basis of today’s business intelligence software.
Understanding the events that have influenced today’s information systems is important in developing an appreciation of the technology that we are using and the business intelligence software that is currently available.
Since learning VisiCalc in 1980, my background and formal education has been primarily concentrated on business issues and administration. When I graduated from college in 1987, I went to work for Arthur Young & Company (now Ernst & Young) as a tax accountant. Most of my clients were corporations and partnerships that had limited computer systems. A few clients were still managing the finances of their business using the pegboard system while most were using spreadsheets or had mainframe computers to process their transactions. However, the vast majority of reporting that occurred was a manual process. While those clients that had computer systems were able to produce reports, any request that modified or created a new report took days, if not weeks, to develop. The user would have to meet with a programmer who then tried to understand the user’s requirements. After the initial meeting, the programmer would then go back to his/her workstation and modify or develop the report using a programming language. There would be several follow-up meetings between the user and the programmer to ensure that the report produced the correct information and was formatted in a manner suitable to the user. This process required advanced planning and anticipation of the information needs of the user. Most of my clients found it easier to simply enter information from an existing report or reports into a spreadsheet and then develop any calculations and formatting that was needed.
After becoming a certified public accountant and realizing that income tax compliance was not for me, I changed public accounting firms in 1990 and went to work for Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers) in their Advisory Business Services group. While performing financial statement audits for my clients, I noticed that the majority of them were implementing ERP applications to account for and process their transactions. These applications provided users with the ability to integrate information from different departments within their organization into one application or database. It also provided users with the ability to access data from across the organization. The abundance of data, as well as the ability for users to access the data through the use of business intelligence software, was of great interest to me because users could use current information for decision support.
With the opportunity to work on a large-scale systems development and business reengineering project, I began a brief stint as an independent contractor working as a member of the reporting team. While on that project, three fellow Price Waterhouse alumni (Tim Donahue, Chris Wheaton and Jim Wirth) and I formed BASE Consulting Group to provide business advisory and systems enhancement services in December, 1994. During the past six years, I have worked with our clients to design, develop and implement reporting solutions. These solutions range from implementation of business intelligence software to development of data warehouses at organizations that range from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies. During the last several years, there have been tremendous advances in the features and functionality of business intelligence software. Current advances, such as Web enabling of business intelligence software, are providing users with a glimpse of the future with respect to this technology.
I look forward to provide readers with an understanding of business intelligence technology and to share our experiences in developing viable solutions for our clients. From time to time, there will be guest writers who will be sharing their experiences in this column. Your comments and questions are welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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