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Packaged Business Intelligence in Action

  • July 01 2002, 1:00am EDT
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This month, I conclude my series on packaged business intelligence by examining an offering in the application area – a pure PBI play, DataHabitat.

As with many of these PBI offerings, DataHabitat has a prebuilt data model, prebuilt data movement routines and a prebuilt means for accessing the data. DataHabitat sources data from a variety of common financial packages such as ACCPAC, Great Plains, MAS 90 and Visual Accountmate. DataHabitat is a PBI with a focus on the midmarket. It is a comprehensive set of tools with a low cost of ownership.

Its interface is a variety of reports, queries, charts, graphs and data representations that the makers of these operational systems never dreamed anyone would need. This PBI offering represents a full spectrum of PBI to analyze in this column as it is a low-cost Category 2 PBI (data model plus ETL plus application layer.)

It is definitely a quick time-to-market solution with the ability to implement very quickly. Assuming all your historical data is in your current financial system and your biggest problem is access to data in that system, this solution fixes your problems of data access and access to historical data. The accessible nature of a data warehouse is evident in this PBI. Some of the other benefits of robust data warehousing, mostly "biggest bang for the buck" items, are also found in this PBI solution including:

  • Tackling those financial source systems that provide the three major data warehouse subject areas – sales, customers and products.
  • Providing out-of-the-box reporting capabilities that get a user started quickly.
  • During an ETL process, the capture of only data that has changed since the last ETL (i.e., DataHabitat does not have to do complete data replaces).
  • Prompts user when changes occur in the source system that would impact the ETL.
  • Ability to do transformations, changing the data from its operational representation if necessary.
  • The ability to implement into the ETL process the calculation of derived fields and the display of the formulas for those fields at runtime.
  • The propagation of formula changes throughout the database for consistency.
  • The easy build of summary tables which improve performance of most access requirements.
  • Good performance for access throughout the data warehouse.
  • Easily manageable security at both row and column levels.

However, readers of my last several columns understand there is always a need to customize and integrate PBI.


DataHabitat is very focused on the source systems of the data and actually bases its data model on the source data models. Where there are a variety of systems that need to be sourced into the data warehouse, the data warehouse data model will be more extensive to accommodate the sources.

The source of data placed in the data warehouse should be immaterial in the data warehouse as data from multiple sources (integrated) is organized around the business subjects it defines (subject- oriented). There is a need to customize the PBI model, perhaps adding dimensional structures that are built from the PBI's native model. Also for subject areas from a variety of sources, adding structures that are built from the separate parts of the model would create a more integrated model.

There likewise may be a need for customizing transformation rules, especially if source data has suspect data quality.


Like many PBIs, DataHabitat's solution may be a major component of an enterprise data warehouse environment. DataHabitat's best use for most DM Review readers may be to receive its data into a shared data warehouse database instance where the prebuilt interface, as well as other interfaces, can access the data. The overall data warehouse can then approach enterprise level with the inclusion of other subjects and sources.

Most PBI offerings are not best-of-breed products for any of their components. The overall offering, however, does address the needs of knowledge-workers who require more access to operational data. Furthermore, PBI offerings can be solid foundations upon which to build. DataHabitat is all of these.

PBI offerings represent value to the business customer and warrant consideration. However, they are not homogenous offerings; and each must be considered individually in conjunction with your business needs, growth and existing systems.

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