Shuttling to yet another information technology (IT) conference, I arrived in Las Vegas feeling down. The glittering lights reflected the superficiality of the place, forcing me to reflect upon the superficiality of the IT industry. From tech sales declines to tech equity lows to tech firm layoffs, being an IT professional has been unsettling. Have we had a positive impact on our economy, or was it all an Enron-like illusion?

The taxi dropped me at the conference center. It was packed with approximately 3,000 people from many countries, all attending the Teradata PARTNERS User Group Conference and Expo. They seemed excited and energetic. However, were they excited about some old data warehousing stuff?

Over the next four days, I must admit that I got swept up into the excitement. My BI batteries were recharged. In the eyes of many companies, data warehousing was doing a great job. Capital funds are very tight, and staff reductions are the norm. Yet these people are innovating and delivering tangible benefits. They have a sense of urgency that their work will help and even save their companies.

Here are a few reflections from Vegas, as I pondered the future on the flight back.

Reflection #1

Many companies have now realized the dream of the enterprise data warehouse as the single repository for all critical enterprise data.1 For these companies, the enterprise data warehouse is yielding significant payoff. Yet, it has taken a decade of hard work and expensive technology. The struggle continues, requiring a continual reaffirmation that a single, unified representation of business reality is absolutely necessary.

Reflection #2

Data warehouses (DWs) are steadily becoming more in sync with transactional systems, reducing the transaction-to-analysis latency from 24 hours to 2 hours or even less. The barriers are not technology anymore; they are the nature of old business processes that were engineered for pushing paper.

Reflection #3

Active business intelligence (i.e., DW systems designed to support operational processes, along with strategic decision making) has moved into the business intelligence (BI) mainstream. Just a year ago, active BI was a curiosity considered deviant behavior by most IT folks. Now, the use of the data warehouse to directly assist worker-bees in the factory and warehouse is in vogue. As the driving force, we should credit the tight economy that demands a tight return on investment.

Reflection #4

Active BI is converging with the extract, transform and load technology and enterprise application integration. People have finally realized that the management of enterprise information is the same as the management of enterprise processes – they are two sides of the same coin. To ignore this fact is to continue the detrimental fragmentation of enterprise systems.

Instead of reflections on the superficiality of BI, I came away from Las Vegas with reflections on the substance of BI and with optimism for its future. Over the last decade, amazing progress with BI/DW systems has been accomplished, although we often forget our arduous history. In the coming decade, we may not call our work BI or DW, but what we are doing today will be a crucial part of future enterprise systems.

1. "I think you may have gone a little far by saying many companies have a single repository. Even those that have a pretty good enterprise repository also have a number of data marts that have not been brought into that single repository." – Sid Adelman

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