There are two major types of business decisions our organizations face today ­ tactical ones and strategic ones. Strategic decisions, such as what businesses we ought to be in and what markets we want to attract, are enabled by using the data warehouse. Tactical decisions, such as what inventory levels to maintain or what product to offer a customer, are facilitated by using the operational data store. The data warehouse, a static snapshot in time, provides credibility and validity for analytical processing. The ODS has current-valued information and is an ideal foundation for those shorter-term decisions needing integrated information. Business intelligence is a term coined by Gartner Group to describe obtaining strategic business value from the data warehouse. But what about obtaining tactical business value from the ODS for those short-term decisions that enable fast-paced daily activities? I call it tactical intelligence. Gartner Group has applied a name to the reduction of the "short-term" aspect of tactical intelligence to its realistic limit ­ zero latency.

Zero latency refers to an infrastructure that reduces "information float," which is the time it takes to receive information used for making decisions, from weeks or days to minutes or seconds. Whether it's the new concept of zero latency or the earlier concept of just-in-time, the point is to provide tactical intelligence. An ODS, typically updated daily from its operational (legacy) sources, but moving to hourly or even real time via a messaging middleware solution, can be a cornerstone of a zero-latency strategy.

Business intelligence tools have been evolving for the data warehouse environment ­ but what about BI (or TI) tools for the operational data store environment? Before applying tactical intelligence tools, we need to analyze what users there will be for the ODS and what activities they will typically perform. Users of tactical intelligence tools will be knowledge workers and managers charged with deciding what happens today. They will be people with responsibility for deciding how many units of each product should be manufactured, how to respond to a customer inquiry or how to structure a product offering for a specific customer based on individual needs. They may be customer support representatives, call center managers, logistic specialists or warehouse workers. In some cases, business strategy may call for the ODS to be accessed directly by customers or suppliers in a self-service mode. Customers, suppliers and internal knowledge workers all need tools that require little training and are easy to use, with databases tuned for optimal performance of predefined queries. Their information environment needs to enable fast-paced, fact-based decision making.

What tools are best suited to provide business advantage in zero latency environments? Tools that facilitate structured access, with a series of standard queries that can be invoked with only a few keystrokes are popular. Some query and reporting tools, as well as managed query environment tools, provide this capability, although they vary in user friendliness.

There will be no heavy-duty ad hoc access or data mining in the ODS environment, so tools that facilitate unstructured access will not be necessary. However, tools that publish information and provide a limited amount of interactivity with it are absolutely critical. Many organizations will create customized front-end applications using an application development toolset. A major trend is toward browser access to standard information, as well as utilizing Web-based query, reporting and OLAP tools to provide the ability to interact (drill down, rotate, etc.) with the information. Companies are now trying to provide customized interactivity by deploying small programs (Java applets, ActiveX components, plug-ins) designed to augment Web browsers. The use of browsers with small programs provides wide deployment (to external as well as internal users) at a very low cost, with little training or maintenance.

Rather than soliciting certain types of information themselves, some managers, suppliers and others may want information dispatched to them. They may want key business indicator information (such as inventory levels, order rates, sales volumes, price changes and foreign exchange transfer rates) broadcast as changes occur. Information broadcasting tools can send information directly to their e-mail, voice mail, pagers or fax machines.

Access to the operational data store provides information for a crucial part of our day-to-day organizational functions. Tactical, time-critical decisions are enabled by query, reporting, OLAP and broadcasting tools that support primarily predefined, structured data access. With a tactical intelligence environment in place supporting the ODS, we provide information on demand for knowledge workers within our organizations, enabling them to compete, retain and gain customers, reduce costs and provide effective, efficient timely management of resources. Gartner refers to zero-latency; I call it tactical intelligence. Either way, analyzing and understanding the users and business drivers of information on demand is key to success.

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