Nov 29, 2005

What is really going on in Iraq?

Whether you agree with the war in Iraq or not, I think the American public needs to be informed about some of the good that is going on over there. I really liked this article written by James Q. Wilson at the Wall Street Journal. He believes, as do I, that President Bush needs to speak more specifically about the accomplishments that have been made. He writes a speech that he feels the President should make. Here is an excerpt:

My fellow Americans: We are winning, and winning decisively, in Iraq and the Middle East. We defeated Saddam Hussein's army in just a few weeks. None of the disasters that many feared would follow our invasion occurred. Our troops did not have to fight door to door to take Baghdad. The Iraqi oil fields were not set on fire. There was no civil war between the Sunnis and the Shiites. There was no grave humanitarian crisis.

Saddam Hussein was captured and is awaiting trial. His two murderous sons are dead. Most of the leading members of Saddam's regime have been captured or killed. After our easy military victory, we found ourselves inadequately prepared to defeat the terrorist insurgents, but now we are prevailing.

Nov 19, 2005

BI Vendors Coming to an awful Realization

I read another news article about a story that I've been following for a couple of weeks now. Business Objects, one of the largest Business Intelligence (BI) vendors, has recently purchased Crystal Xcelsius to bring more analytic capabilities to, you guessed it, Microsoft Office products (Excel and Powerpoint). This is following a HUGE trend in the BI industry as vendors are learning the sad truth about their products - no one likes them or really uses them. Most data consumers are still just using BI tools to extract data for analysis in Excel.

Is this a dangerous move? Probably not for data consumers. This does pose serious problems for businesses that are serious about data governance and adherence to SEC regulations and legislation such as SOX. Because users have freedom to manipulate data any way they please, without regard to any change control, they pose a huge threat to their company.

I wish BI vendors would spend more time making their analytics tools more powerful and "Excel" like. BI tools have the ability to keep data authoritative so why not provide the flexibility to move data around, consolidate, and summarize as the user pleases. Oh, they'll claim they can do this, but of all the BI products I've seen (at least the key players anyway) they aren't even close.

Data Warehousing for Small Business

Recently, Tom Foydel responded on my post on Data Warehousing for the Rest of Us. He brings up a couple of ideas that I would like to respond to. First:

But if I am a small or medium sized business then I probably don't have the volume of transactions that make a Data Warehouse necessary. With my volume of transactions I ought to be able to use a business analytics tool that's part of my ERP/CRM system.

Tom, you have a great point here. I honestly believe that a business has to have a reason to build a data warehouse before building one. I know that sounds overly simple and ridiculous, but you see this mentality all the time in IT. If your ERP/CRM analytics tools are adequate for your business then there is no reason for having a data warehouse. I think that principle needs to be taught to most techies in general, if you don't need it - don't build/buy it.

On the other hand, there are many small to mid-sized businesses that do have the volume of transactions that warrant a data warehouse. But, it's not just volume that counts. As soon as the business needs to start performing analytics across multiple disparate data sources a data warehouse of some kind and size is probably going to be necessary. This is the area that I am referring to when I say that the big boys have left us out. There really isn't anything out there, that I have found, that addresses this problem.

My other comment is that large business that have data warehouses have not fared very well lately. Some smart people like Peter Drucker have noted that small and medium sized business are growing today, but large businesses are mostly stuck in neutral. Are data warehouses necessary? Do they really propel growth?

Another GREAT point. Yes, it is true that even the big boys have many data warehousing woes as well. It just goes to show how immature data warehousing still is. I believe the reason businesses question the value of warehouses is because of poor alignment between the business and the warehouse. Companies may spend millions trying to get a data warehouse together only to find that it doesn't bring any of the promised value.

I personally believe that data warehouses can propel growth. They can do this at the large scale and the small scale if they are built with properly aligned business objectives. Businesses that don't have any plans to utilize the analytics to make business decisions will just end up producing a bunch of "gee-wiz" reports that don't bring any business value. Companies that allow the reporting and analytics to drive decision making will be able to utilize the power of the data warehouse to propel growth.

Nov 9, 2005

Getting in on the Ground Floor

I just love the fact that the data warehousing and related industries are still in their infancy. What's that you say? Infancy? For an industry that is over 20 years old (and for computer technology that is a lot)? Yes, that's exactly what I mean - infancy. Take for example this article published by Bill Inmon, considered to be the father of data warehousing:The Importance of Customer Data Integration

He comes right out and says we aren't even close. I agree 100%! As I have stated before, data warehousing and customer data integration and related technologies are still virtually unavailable to the majority of the businesses out there that desperately need them. Business Analysis is still largely being done in spreadsheets for crying out loud!

To me, this infancy is the allure of this industry. It's like getting in on the ground floor of a promising company. Anyone with good ideas and a good work ethic can make a huge difference. I believe in that potential.

Data Warehousing for the Rest of Us

If you are part of a small to mid-sized company trying to implement a Data Warehouse or research whether Data Warehousing is right for your company, it probably wont take you long to discover that Data Warehousing is still for the BIG guys and not for the rest of us. Data Warehouse tools vendors cater to the big companies because they are the one's that bring in the big revenues. These vendors so proud of their "rocket science" that they can charge exorbitant amounts for their solutions and then wrap industry heavy weights such as Ralph Kimball and Bill Inmon around their products declaring best practices that are unreasonable and cost prohibitive.

I am sick of reading about "the ideal" data warehousing solution. I have been reading data warehousing and data management articles for about two years now and I firmly believe that these authors live in a dream world that only exists where there is an infinite amount of money and resources to go around.

I do give them credit, however, for promoting technology and practices that can, at least, get you off in the right direction; but in the same breath I blame them for the unbelievably high failure rates of data warehousing projects.

What I want is a Data Warehousing Methodology that doesn't fall on its face in the real world and doesn't cost my company a fortune to implement. Of course, I want my complex analytics, ad-hoc engines, and consolidated reporting tools too! And I also want it to have impeccable performance. Can I have my cake and eat it too?

I am currently working on a methodology that I hope will do just that. I don't have a name for it yet but I have some underlying principles laid out. My goal is to develop a methodology for building data warehouses for the rest of us. The core of my new methodology is centered on agility and speed. My hope is to have some time over the next couple of months to develop my ideas a little more and then post them here for comment. Any feedback is appreciated.