Data warehousing, along with business intelligence, is getting a lot of attention as people come to terms with increasing amounts of information and the realization that you need to use the information differently to get the most out of it. Is this process just a fad, or are real benefits to be had by looking at information en masse differently?

Data warehousing is a key use of information as you realize just how much knowledge and company intelligence is stored in your systems. To date, many systems rely on prebuilt reports and long-standing data extracts to see what is happening company wide. Data warehousing, or the premise of it, is taking that information examination to the next level, making better decisions based on a wider array of data - more information that can be used to form opinions and make decisions.

What is Data Warehousing?

At its simplest form, data warehousing refers to the data already stored in your databases. Data warehousing is the art of using everyday information that you accumulate to see trends and analyze your business with a forward-looking goal.

Think of data warehousing as a wholesaler for information. The information has been pulled together and sorted for you, and you get to figure out the best use for it.

How Can I Use it in My Business?

The true gold from data warehousing is about discovery - finding out new things about your business that weren't as apparent before. Use query tools to pull up information and then drill down into the specifics to find new relationships, trends and BI that can make a real difference to decision-making.

The data warehouse will group information in ways that aren't typical within a database. Instead of sales transactions associated with a particular product line, the sales data will appear together under a common heading. By breaking down boundaries between information areas and by grouping things in much broader categories, you can pull executive-level reports, then drill down and get details if needed. The fact is, many times the really helpful and surprising trending can only be realized at this higher level.

Pulling back from the data is key to seeing things that aren't apparent close up. Sometimes the information you glean is not obvious. For example, I worked with one company to analyze registration data for events. By modeling and comparing registration numbers over time, I could accurately predict attendance and registration models very early on in the registration cycle, which led to better negotiations for space, better deals on food and hotels and more.

Data warehousing holds much promise, but it is not a matter of turning on a switch or installing data warehousing for your business. Breaking data apart, developing the appropriate higher-level groupings and making sense of the information can be a time-consuming and expensive process. The personnel expense can be substantial; the time required of your staff can be surprising as you realize just how much information is stored for your business. That information has to be rationalized and regrouped, then stored in a meaningful way.

Second, the physical expenses can be daunting as you build out the systems to support storage and processing requirements to support the query and analysis of information for your data warehouse.

Security and compliance issues come into play as you start to use information in new ways and with the addition of new users. Make sure you have protections in place that keep personal information protected. Go through a review process to make sure you are complying with any regulatory guidelines that apply to your business. Even if there are no specific regulations, be wary of exposing specific, personal information of any type.

As you're building the warehouse and determining what information is needed, keep a close eye on data security. Make sure you are protecting information and only allowing authorized people access. This can help prevent some of the nightmarish data loss headlines we've all seen of late. Be very, very careful with the information you're summarizing and who has access to which bits of data, and you'll be well on your way.

Data warehousing is a must for any company learning to move forward by looking back at how their business runs and determining what to look for going forward. This seems odd - looking back to go forward. But with so much information stored about your business, about how things work, about what your customers do and how they react to you, it's unreasonable or even irresponsible to ignore the wealth of information you have at your disposal.

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