Data warehouses hit a crossroad

Las Vegas – The relationship between IT and business is changing says a Gartner analyst, and IT must follow business’ lead.

Speaking at Partners, the annual user conference of data warehousing vendor Teradata, Donald Feinberg said companies are going to start paying closer attention to their data warehouses. Feinberg, a vice-president and distinguished analyst with the research firm, said if your data warehouse is more than 10 years old it’s going to need to be replaced to empower today’s workforce.

Even clients with data warehouses just five years ago are telling him they’re not working anymore, said Feinberg. They can no longer handle the loads and do the job needed. It’s a matter of changing expectations, said Feinberg, and what the systems were originally designed to do.

“We just didn’t know 10 years ago what we’d be doing with data warehouses today,” said Feinberg. “We barely even called them data warehouses then.”

We also weren’t talking about terms such as high availability, 24 by 7 or mission critical disaster recovery in relation to data warehouses either, said Feinberg. But that has changed. By the close of 2009, he said, 90 per cent of Global 2000 companies will have at least one mission critical business application reliant on the data warehouse. And that, in turn, makes the data warehouse itself mission critical.

“The bottom line is data warehouses are mission critical, it’s that simple,” said Feinberg, “If you don’t build them as integrated mission critical systems they will become a point of failure.”

And while the mission of re-architecting and rebuilding the data warehouse will inevitably fall to IT, Feinberg said it needs to be a business-led initiative. Consulting with the business just won’t be enough.

“Talking doesn’t do anything,” said Feinberg. “You need to work with business, and business needs to run the project if it’s going to be successful.”

That’s because the game has changed. There was a time IT could give any old program to the business side and they’d have to use it, but not anymore. Noting Excel 2007 allows one million rows, he said people can get by without a database, and can even run SAS analytics against Excel spreadsheets.

“Bottom line, if you don’t do it correctly and with them they’re going to do it themselves,” said Feinberg. “Everything must now be designed around the worker.”

It’s a trend he only sees becoming more true. In five years the average person working on the business side will have grown-up in the information age, working with technology all their lives. They’ll be more tech savvy than ever before.

“Do you think you’re going to be able to tell someone like that use this program to do your job?” asked Feinberg. “It doesn’t work that way, because if they don’t like it they’re going to find some other way to do it on their own.”

Instead, he says in the future IT will need to create services based on business processes. The worker’s job will be to get from point A to point B, IT will provide a menu of services, and the worker will decide themselves how to get there.

“This makes it look like the industrial revolution never happened,” said Feinberg.The revolution is already happening at The Hershey Company, where the chocolate business is more complicated than may first be thought.

Hershey runs an SAP advance planning solution on top of a Teradata data warehouse and Herb Hockley, Hershey’s manager of customer planning, says the candy company’s road to demand planning has been particularly challenging. The company goes to market through many different channels, making planning difficult. The situation is complicated by chocolate being an impulse buy; it needs to catch the eye in the checkout aisle so marketing is key.

“We need to have new and exciting things happening with our products such as a new item, a seasonal item or a special promotional item available for a limited time,” said Hockley. “It does create complexity for us, and creates challenges from a planning perspective.”

With SAP, Teradata and a reporting solution from Ottawa-based Cognos, Hockley reports Hershey has been able to implement a demand planning solution that pulls in relevant data from across the business to accurately produce an operational forecast to drive manufacturing, marketing and financial projections.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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