What does "instant gratification" mean to you? I think of the animals at circuses that routinely contort themselves to perform unnatural tricks for a handful of snacks ­ presented immediately upon completion of the trick. It also reminds me of what happens when I am hungry and a bag of Doritos is placed front of me. We all have experience with some form of instant gratification.

Similarly, it is not at all unexpected that our ten-year- old data warehousing industry and CRM (which has emerged as an industry in the past few years) are candidates for the packaging of those things that can be deemed common and applicable on a broad basis, thus providing instant gratification.

It all started several years ago when some consultancies that had delivered several data warehouses in a certain industry began repackaging the data models for others in the industry. At approximately the same time, those of us who were building ERP data warehouses were learning that the process of extracting data from ERP systems was difficult and time- consuming. Those who had crossed that hurdle were beginning to package the extraction layer. Lately, we see that many of the applications that we would custom-write against our data warehouses have been packaged and are available for purchase, either with or without a corresponding database.

These are the origins of the packaged business intelligence (PBI) movement. Now, the data models, data movement routines and the applications to access the data are all there!

However, the vendors are not following the same formula for the packaging, nor have they neatly classified themselves for us. There are as many different approaches to PBI as there are vendors in the space, and asking who is in the space of PBI is similar to asking who is in the space of business intelligence.

Some provide solely the data model or the means to build a data model beyond that of a data modeling tool with a blank workspace. Others provide only a means of sourcing data from complex source systems such as ERP systems. Still many other solutions are solely applications, mostly CRM applications that either provide a minimal data infrastructure or leave it all up to the client. We call these analytic applications.

Other vendor solutions are tool-based with a heavy professional-services component to tie the tools together. I refer to these as Category 1 PBI. Those that provide the means to source data and the data model in which to place the sourced data as well as those that add an integrated application layer are Category 2 PBI. The difference between the two categories has to do with their ability to actually provide the basis for your enterprise data warehouse (without a lot of development from scratch).

Based on my experience architecting several PBIs for market and implementing several others at client sites, I believe Category 2 PBI solutions have the potential to become the enterprise data warehouse for Fortune 50 enterprises if the end client understands the customization required and the implementation is done well.

That's not to say Category 1 isn't viable for you. I am not implying that by any means. It is all about meeting expectations. Category 2 price points are much higher than Category 1. You expect more. With Category 1, the end client or consultancy must add data warehouse layers that are obviously missing to meet enterprise data warehousing requirements.

Regardless of the category, much of PBI fails to live up to the promises made beforehand. This is the first in a series of columns on the PBI industry. For purposes of discussion of this space within this series, I will use the following definition of PBI: Solutions comprising the means to collect data, deliver data to the solution's data model and perform analysis upon the data.

According to DataQuest, the market for PBI will grow from $602.3 million in 1998 to $3.2 billion in 2003. It is the hottest submarket within BI today. This submarket provides numerous benefits and selling points over custom data warehouse approaches including overcoming the business distrust that IT can deliver, fewer vendors to deal with, lowered staff requirements, bounded ROI and the number-one benefit ­ time to market, if done well and not solely to provide instant gratification.

Although all of us seek instant gratification occasionally, one common trait that I find in the best CRM-ready data warehouses is that they are not motivated solely by short-term needs. They take a much longer view of their architectures and consider each new application in light of all of its advantages, disadvantages and potential impact upon the future of the architecture.

In this series, we'll explore integrating PBI architectures with your bespoke data warehouse architectures, specific PBI offerings, case studies, what to look for in PBI and how to most effectively customize PBI to your environment to achieve the promise that PBI offers.

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