The new face of data warehousing: Page 3

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Why the urgency? The operating system on the aging Honeywell mini-computer where the bulk of BLM's data lay was not going to be brought into Y2K compliance. The data, residing in four legacy system databases, contained crucial "patents"--records of public land being transferred into private hands--dating back to the 1700's when the General Land Office maintained the records. Thanks to Migration Architect's help with profiling the data files, Cone is confident that the rehosting project, begun in July 1998, will be completed and tested by her March 1999 deadline.

Other innovative products and trends

Evoke isn't the only innovative product or bellwether trend in the data warehousing market today. Amit Desai, a cofounder of Anubis Inc., sells commercially a data warehouse design tool that he and his partners had developed for their consulting clients. Like Nordstrom and Cone, Desai says he realized the value of any tool that could reduce the time spent on the labor-intensive design process, and Constructa was born. A tool for graphical, dimensional model construction (full graphical interface, schema generation into star or snowflake schema, plus optimization for either performance or space), Constructa also checks overall design integrity. Users can define standards and conventions and have Constructa automatically apply these via inheritance. Data warehousing vendors like Informatica Corp. and Microstrategy Inc. have already recognized the value proposition of Constructa, and have negotiated the rights to distribute it with their own products.

The origins of Migration Architect

Migration Architect began life in the 1980s as a research project of then Cornell University professor Dina Bitton in collaboration with a team of computer scientists from Finland. They hypothesized that you could find a relational structure in any data by using inferencing techniques to perform "relationship analysis." By comparing each value of every column with the values in every other column in a file, the data itself could tell you exactly what relationships exist between data elements. Bitton founded DBStar in 1993 as a vehicle for new products from the technology. She served as CEO until 1996 and has recently founded a new data integration venture, IDS Integrated Data Systems (www.ids-corp.com).

In 1997, Lacy Edwards became CEO of DBStar, which was subsequently reorganized as Evoke Software Corp. Evoke incorporated the technology into the much broader "data profiling and mapping" solution now known as Migration Architect 2.0. At $200,000 per server and $50,000 per user, Migration Architect isn't cheap--until you consider the cost of wasting person years in doomed projects.

David Wells, principal analyst at Ovum Ltd., a London-based research firm, observes that, in addition to market consolidation among data warehousing vendors, the other main trend is an increased acknowledgment that metadata integration and repositories are emerging as a key end-user requirement. Repositories are like card catalogs of enterprise (or datamart/application) data. Standards efforts associated with the Metadata Coalition and the Object Management Group are symptomatic of the trend.

Wells cites the arena of "packaged analytical applications" as another hotbed of innovative integration. The idea, according to Wells, is that now that the decision support/data warehousing market and technologies have matured, users can buy "prebuilt" applications to perform tasks such as financial risk assessment, customer churn analysis, and so on--"off the shelf." Analogous to the arrival of SAP R/3 from SAP AG of Walldorf, Germany, and its competitors in the OLTP [online transaction processing] market, says Wells, vendors are now encouraging users to believe that they can buy packaged analytical applications as well.

This is an immensely appealing message, notes Wells, especially for users who are nervous about data warehousing and/or have already been "bruised and bloodied" with unsuccessful data warehousing or datamart projects. In the meantime, the packaged applications market (Baan Co., SAP, etc.) has spawned a completely new market for application integration products (Constellar Corp., CrossWorlds Software Inc., and so on) in an attempt to ease the pain felt by organizations that have attempted to integrate packaged and nonpackaged applications themselves.

For instance, some firms are already building new business applications, such as customer relationship management and campaign management, as extensions of the data warehouse. These new applications are part of a controlled, closed-loop system (as opposed to being standalone, "stovepipe" applications). Data warehouses have moved from being read-only storage facilities to monitoring the business, and they are being used as the basis for analytical engines required to feed process workflow, to generate information for closer customer intimacy, and to provide informational content to reorganize organizational processes and structures. Warehouse content must now be expanded to contain resultant measures based upon initial analytics and segmentation. This requires (or will require) writeable content based upon customer dialogs and responses to the efforts of call centers, direct marketing, and sales representatives.

Other innovators are targeting vertical markets or offering specific functionality. NCR Corp., for example, offers industry-specific versions of its RightStart data warehouse package with bundles "pretuned" for retail, financial services, and data communications, and IBM has similar offerings. Marketing is another sector that has attracted a lot of attention and innovative solutions. Several firms, including Dun & Bradstreet Corp. and MarketSwitch Corp. announced focused marketing and/or CRM (customer relationship management) products at the recent National Center for Database Marketing Show.

What the tea leaves say

Companies implementing data warehousing solutions are at last finding a new crop of tools capable of migrating existing data and then analyzing that data more quickly than ever before. ACSC of Southern California enjoys out-of-the-box efficiency with its choice of Migration Architect, while the BLM expects to significantly reduce the implementation time of a deadline-dependent project using Evoke's product.

New directions are also visible. Among other things, vendor consolidations, the realization that end-user requirements now call for metadata integration and repositories, and an increased interest in packaged analytical applications, as well as application-integration products, are coming to the forefront of data warehousing.

Indeed, it's a very exciting time in the world of data warehousing. This taste of some of the innovative products and trends shows that the tea leaves seem to say faster, more focused, more integrated--and more bottom line. //

Karen Watterson (karen_watterson@msn.com) is an independent San Diego-based writer and consultant specializing in database design and data warehousing issues. She has written several books, including Visual Basic Database Programming and Client/Server Technology for Managers, and is completing one on Microsoft's SQL Server 7.0.

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