Once upon a time (early 1980s), an innovative start-up known as Teradata figured out how to use massively parallel processing technology to run decision support applications much faster than was possible at that time with alternative technologies. More than fifteen years have passed. Today the phrase decision support has been largely replaced with an alphabet soup of new terms such as data warehousing, business intelligence and CRM.

Teradata was acquired by NCR nearly a decade ago. The company extended and enhanced the original Teradata technology, and today Teradata-based systems represent a significant chunk of NCR's income. NCR is now a leader in data warehousing, particularly in the mega-system end of the market, where it has operational systems handling warehouses containing more than 100 terabytes.

As we all know, today the Internet and its soul brothers, extranets and intranets, are revolutionizing the processes of gathering data and disseminating information. NCR has seized the opportunities derived from this phenomenon by developing a slate of products designed to acquire Internet-based transaction data and to analyze that data in near real time.

The new product suite, announced with much fanfare in April 2000, sounds new and exciting; but if one looks under the covers, one finds mostly the same technology that NCR has been deploying for the last 15 years, just enhanced to operate efficiently in the Internet environment. At the back end, new ETL tools transform Web-site data and load it into a Teradata warehouse. At the front end, both conventional (e.g., OLAP) and new data mining tools do the data analysis and reporting. Unless you are an early-adopter type, this is surely good news.

NCR has chosen to focus initially on the business-to-consumer environment with particular emphasis on relationship-based applications such as CRM, campaign management, customer profiling and the like. To support that area, it has several new offerings under the umbrella of what it calls Relationship Technologies (more alphabet soup). These include TeraMiner, a tool that provides intelligent analysis for measuring things such as promotion effectiveness, and Relationship Optimizer, a tool that looks for events and initiates actions based on predefined business rules. In addition, there are specialized scripts, reports, tools and models for specific applications such as e-advertising.

Sounds cool, but you might logically inquire, "Where's the beef?" The answer is that there are some significant value propositions inherent in what NCR is offering. First is the ability to efficiently combine Web-based transaction data with other data (including, for example, an in-house historical customer database and an external demographic database) in a single warehouse. Whereas most e-commerce warehouse-based applications simply track what happened on the Web (pages visited, for example), the importance of having the ability to use all the data that impacts a given business problem cannot be overstated. The problem, of course, is that the system must be capable of managing massive amounts of data derived from disparate sources. Another is the ability to operate in a 24x7 environment with all that implies in terms of robustness and data integrity. Third is the ability to deliver results in near real time. These are all strengths of NCR/Teradata systems, with or without the Internet factor.

On the day of the announcement, NCR told the world about some customers for e-business Teradata; the all-star list includes Travelocity.com, MatchLogic, macys.com and E*Trade.

I interviewed Jack Garzella who runs the e-business CRM data warehouse operation for MatchLogic. Jack told me that his operation is one of the world's top five Oracle data warehouse sites and that he was not exactly receptive to the idea of bringing in another vendor. It took NCR many months to convince Jack to give them a shot at his business, but he's glad that NCR persisted. Among the benefits of the Teradata switch, he cited the ability to put all instances on a single warehouse (before each had to be in a separate database), a 15-30 times improvement in clickstream query response time and load times measured in hours rather than days. As an Internet infrastructure company, MatchLogic's competitive edge is to be able to provide its customers with superior performance. Needless to say, Jack and his colleagues are happy campers.

In short, by exploiting its traditional strengths in the world of e-commerce, it looks like NCR may have hit a home run. If you don't want to buy one of their systems, NCR will build and run one for you under an on-site or off-site outsource contract or as an ASP. Looks like e-business has a new major BI player.

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