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More Trends in Data Integration

  • September 01 2007, 1:00am EDT

My last column was about hyped trends. There are other industry trends that don't get all the hype but are happening quietly. These trends are taking hold because they either extend the business value of a company's data by leveraging their business intelligence (BI)/data warehousing (DW) investments or they are enabling more cost-effective delivery of information to businesses. Surprisingly, no software or hardware company directly benefits from some of the trends, which explains why they are happening without much buzz.

Corporate performance management (CPM).  CPM has become the guiding force of many BI or DW implementations. Businesses are implementing performance management solutions rather than simpl0y cranking out reports. The majority of CPM solutions are being built by extending a company's DW and BI solution rather than buying a prepackaged solution, which has to be customized and may become another data silo. Software vendors have moved their hype to service-oriented architecture (SOA), master data management (MDM) and customer data integration (CDI) in the hopes of capturing those prebuilt solution package sales.

Enterprise data integration (EDI) platform. Companies have finally started to embrace a broader version of data integration than simply extract, transform and load (ETL). They are beginning to leverage a mix of data integration technologies such as ETL, data profiling, data quality and cleansing, data lineage and audit (metadata), enterprise application integration (EAI) and enterprise information integration (EII). With businesses demanding comprehensive, consistent and timely data, an EDI platform may be the most cost-effective and productive approach to meeting this demand. However, the trend is most applicable to large firms with multiple generations of data warehouses or enterprise resource planning (ERP) reporting implementations. Small and midsized firms are primarily focusing on ETL adoption, partly because that is a necessary right of passage and partly because of the current high cost, both from a software/hardware cost perspective and resource expertise needed, to implement these solutions.

Data governance. You can read about it, but it's not a "thing" you can buy. Rather, it involves people and processes, which is not in the comfort zone of many technical folks. To really obtain comprehensive, consistent and timely data that meets compliance requirements, you need to implement an ongoing data governance program. Gartner estimates that only 10 percent of the initial efforts will succeed, so this trend will encounter disillusionment, but hopefully, companies will give it a second try. I am cautiously optimistic that this will be a long-term trend, but it may take several iterations to be successful. The business value is there; let's hope people persevere.

Bundling BI and ETL with databases. This is potentially the most significant quiet trend, especially in the small and medium business (SMB) market. We may be at the inflection point where companies that have been hand coding the data extraction and loading process become aware that there is a better, more affordable way. Microsoft and Oracle have dramatically lowered the total cost of ownership for DW and BI solutions by effectively giving away ETL and BI functionality along with their databases. This allows companies to add these capabilities without acquiring another vendor and licensing costs into their product mix.

Until recently, the product capabilities from the database vendors have been elementary, but recent releases are very robust. These tools do not match the market leaders, but are plenty good enough for many applications, especially in the SMB market. And, I might add, bundled ETL might be just what the doctor (architect) ordered to renovate data shadow systems by replacing all the hand-coded extraction and cut-and-paste processes with robust data integration (and allow spreadsheets to be used as spreadsheets rather than a poor man's ETL tool).

BI suites. This was much hyped when all the major BI players were expanding their BI platform capabilities. However, the BI suites were not ready for prime time then. When initially introduced, many of the BI suites were "marketectures," meaning they were on marketing slides and brochures but years away from reality. Their time has arrived. Reporting, dashboards, scorecards and data visualization were all added to platforms that already included query and OLAP capabilities. Now that the BI players have completed the major revisions to their product lines (there are always more additions and mergers), companies that are implementing BI and CPM solutions have the ability to enable a broad range of capabilities that match a varied list of business users' needs. From the power user and business analysts to the casual report reader, these BI platforms hit the mark.

Virtualization. Although this is not just happening in the DW/BI industry, I am excited about this trend. Yes, it saves money that would have been spent on hardware; but also, companies are implementing quality assurance, systems testing, unit testing and development environments for their DW/BI projects. The software engineer is jumping for joy. It's also a great way to try out software and establish training environments. I use it on my notebook computer so that I can have environments with Linux, Windows 2003, Oracle, SQL Server, DB2 and various ETL and BI tools.

What else do you think is happening in the industry today? What new tools are you using? Please send me your thoughts. 

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