Whoa doggie! Las Vegas has always been a big draw for TDWI, but this year the conference really hit it rich with over 900 attendees. That’s a 20%+ increase over last year. Interest in BI and data
warehousing appears to be growing at an impressive rate. Although I am not a fan of big crowds, TDWI and the hotel managed to make this one very comfortable and well worth the trip.
As usual, top-notch instructors presented new courses plus updates on the core offerings focusing on all levels of Business Intelligence and data warehousing. Vendors also showed up in force with a
wide range of new releases, a willingness to share their experiences, and an inclination to throw some great parties. All of this took place at Caesars Palace, a place modeled after early Rome. I
came primed to suck on a grape and take in the best that TDWI had to offer.
For this conference, I wanted to center my attention on strategies for improving tech/management and IT/business communications. Dave Wells, director of education, and Wayne Eckerson, director of
research at TDWI, have increasingly focused on this problem area over the past year. As a result, this conference presented a number of opportunities for this grizzled vet to look up from what he
was doing to make sure that he was still aligned with industry directions and to see if he could improve on his ability to communicate with his customers. My first step was to sit in on Mark Peco
as he led us through TDWI’s Business Intelligence Executive Briefing.
Peco started out with definitions and concepts. Howard Dresner was the first to coin the term, Business Intelligence, BI, as “a set of concepts and methodologies to improve decision making in
business through use of facts and fact-based systems.” Peco went on to give us a comprehensive BI components framework that included data warehousing at the center. Although Dresner allowed for
decision support systems that would not meet Bill Inmon’s classic data warehouse definition, “a data warehouse is a subject oriented, integrated, time-variant, historic database design for
management decision making,” TDWI chose to put the data warehouse at the center of their BI framework. I think that this was a good choice.
Although BI is more strategy than technology, I had witnessed a number of reporting and analysis tool vendors jump onto the BI bandwagon as the term gained common use in the late ’90s. Many early
data warehousing efforts had gone down in flames, and as a result, some vendors, thinking that BI was an alternative to data warehousing, chose to distance themselves from subject. However, those
vendors that did include data warehousing as well as the broader concept of BI in their strategy did markedly better than the rest.
Peco went on to cover just about every topic associated with data warehousing, program management, data acquisition, information delivery, business analytics, meeting requirements, etc. from a
business perspective. TDWI’s BI Framework does a good job of weaving these topics together. Many of us in the trade had assumed that data warehousing should cover all of these topics, but you know
what they say about that word, “assume.” (Break it down.) Although we might have held that notion, we often found ourselves focusing on the database. “Build it and they will come” was an often
heard phrase not too long ago. I don’t think that it would hurt most of us, regardless of how experienced, to drop back and take TDWI’s BI Executive Briefing.
After class I headed for the reception hosted by TDWI partner members. TDWI used to have these Sunday evening receptions a number of years ago, but for one reason or another, they were supplanted
by night school or other activities. It was good to once again be able to share food and drink, and network with fellow conference goers in a relaxed setting.
Raymond Karrenbauer from ING got things rolling with his keynote, “Extending BI Architecture with Enterprise Integration Technology,” which focused on ING’s experience with enterprise
information integration (EII). Amongst other things, developing an EII strategy before building a data warehouse makes a lot of sense. Karrenbauer pointed out that a worthwhile EII effort marries
sound data management with technology and results in a broad-based, reusable infrastructure and lower mid/long term costs.
In keeping with my strategy for this conference, I had signed up for the Executive Summit, which really was a conference within a conference. Wayne Eckerson, the moderator, kept a tight rein on the
sign-up for this event and made sure that the audience included mostly managers and execs from IT and business. The attendees had their own break room and shared meals together. It was a great way
for managers to get away from their day-to-day responsibilities and, along with their counterparts from other organizations, look at this discipline from a strategic level.
Eckerson and his staff integrated case studies, panels, interviews, group exercises plus academic and hands-on presentations along with a number of TDWI studies into a fast paced two days.
Hugh Watson, Professor from the University of Georgia and active researcher in data warehousing and BI, started off with an overview of BI and data warehousing for execs who find themselves
sponsors of these initiatives.
Eckerson and John O’Brien, frequent presenter on industry trends, gave a presentation titled “What’s Hot, What’s Hype, What Now?” In it, they reviewed the TDWI BI Maturity Model. A poster for
that model is on the TDWI site at www.tdwi.org. (Look under publications.) Every professional in this business should be familiar with it. Eckerson
and O’Brien then covered a number of topics from SANs to Master Data Management. I found that some of the things they listed near the “hype” end of the spectrum, such as grid computing were
indeed closing rapidly on becoming forces to be dealt with. However, just going over the plethora of TLAs in the business constituted the real value in this session.
That afternoon, Eckerson interviewed Chris Gentry, Director of Business Intelligence at CCC Information Services. Gentry didn’t waste any time in getting down to the basics. His experience showed
that project prioritization, based on maximum business value, leads to IT success. He related how groups that he had worked with had successfully shipped some quality assurance work offshore.
Gentry also stressed targeted training for each class of users, from execs to analysts, and he said that untrained users are a detriment to your efforts. I had heard Gentry talk before. He is very
focused and, if you ever get a chance to sit in on one of his sessions, it is well worth it.
That evening, I took a break from the Summit and attended a night school session titled “Master Data Management – How on Earth Do I Get Started?” taught by Cliff Longman, CTO, Kalido. Master data
management or MDM is a fairly new buzz phrase, so I wanted to make sure that I had the straight scoop. Longman explained that master data are “sets of data of known provenance,
assembled and authorized for intended use by recipient systems, organizations and individuals.” The goals of MDM are more accurate, efficient, and consistent business processes
including increased reliability in BI. Longman went on to relate how Shell, Unilever, and BP had all attributed annual gains of $100 million + to MDM. He also pointed out that the discipline should
be applied to all transaction systems as well as the data warehouse. Longman went over four different MDM models that either had a central hub or no hub – but consistently applied policy, plus push
or bi-directional characteristics. Given that he was from Kalido, which has done pioneering work specifically in support of MDM, Longman avoided the TDWI prohibition against instructor pitches and
didn’t go into the supporting technology. However, I did a quick survey of the subject afterwards and found that a number of major and some minor vendors have also gotten into the game.
After night school (there’s always something going on at TDWI) I took in the Cognos sponsored hospitality suite. Cognos was showing off its newest offering, Cognos Version 8 BI. It sports a zero
footprint, Web interface and has different features including reporting, analysis, scorecarding, a portal, and data integration which can be “turned on” as required. Cognos Version 8 BI does
appear to do a good job of integrating the capabilities of its Series 7 predecessor which included a number of different and distinct products, and it takes these capabilities one step further,
especially in the area of a new, unified interface.
The Executive Summit continued with a joint presentation by Jill Dyche’ and Tracy Austin. Dyche’ is a frequent presenter at TDWI conferences. Her topics often address IT/business alignment
challenges. This morning she gave a quick overview of the topic and turned it over to Austin. Austin was the CIO of Mandalay Resort Group until it was recently sold. She gave an excellent and well
structured overview of the value of IT taking the initiative to support the strategic direction of the business. Austin has been very successful and it’s always great to hear how someone in her
shoes has done it.
Tuesday night’s hospitality suites set the bar for all time parties with top dog sponsors. Microsoft hosted a great young stud Elvis with a voice that took me way back. Next door, SAS presented
the “Dueling Piano Show” with the very hot and talented twins, Kimberley and Tamara Pinegar. The food was great and the drinks unique. What a great pair of shows!
After spending a morning catching up on my writing, I dropped in on the vendor show. I walked around and stopped when something caught my eye.
Strategy Companion, a company headquartered in Taipei, has gained a lot of attention in Asia, and now they are expanding into the U.S. Their product, SC-Analyzer, is a dynamic, Web product for MS
SQL Server 2005 Analysis Services. I watched their demo and was impressed. SC-Analyzer makes a nice complement to MS Reporting Services.
Next, I wanted to check out Embarcadero’s latest release of ER/Studio. This data modeling product just keeps on getting better and better. ER/Studio’s ability to support multilayer data models is
especially appealing to data warehousing designers. This release extends that capability with the ability to document data lineage from source to staging to central warehouse to dimensional data
marts. It also supports documenting data movement rules each step. I also like its ability to insert views at the logical level. Although this feature is still somewhat limited, it is handy when
developing dimensional models.
In the halls and during class breaks, I was hearing a lot of folks ask each other about master data management. Monday night’s session on MDM was pretty popular. A number of vendors were climbing
on the MDM bandwagon, but I hadn’t seen Information Builders iWay as part of that rush. I had worked with iWay middleware in the past, and thought that it would be a natural for MDM support. I
dropped by their booth to check out iWay’s latest offerings in light of what I had learned about the subject. What I found was interesting.
Too often middleware vendors come across as appearing to sell “solutions” that are substitutes for sound data administration. Information Builders seems to be focusing on giving data
administrators the tools that they need to build out their data strategies which might include, but are not limited to MDM, EII, or just point to point ERP or legacy access. iWay’s foundation
rests on an event based architecture. It integrates data access to just about any data source one might think of with ETL technology, message oriented middleware, custom applications, and all major
BI tools. (This latter application supports a unified access method for operational and strategic BI.) Data administrators can configure iWay to implement their policies – i.e. naming standards,
data format standards, data transformations, automatic routing, B2B communications, and/or service level agreements – in a service oriented architecture. Data administrators and BI architects owe
it to themselves to become familiar with this technology.
It was about time to take a mid-point break from the conference, but it was hard to turn off the mind. What was that book by Mackay called? Swim with the Sharks Without Getting Eaten
Alive? In keeping with my goal of improving my communications with execs, I felt that a visit with the sharks at Mandalay Bay was in order. That way I could take a break and call it homework.
As I walked through the glass tunnel at the exhibit with the sharks cruising overhead, I thought “hmmm so close, but we are indeed in much different environments.” I tried telepathy, and they
invited me in for lunch. I had to decline.
Double whoa doggie! Just as you think the conference is winding down, along comes Anthony Politano from Joisey to fire us up and set us straight on how to talk with the other side. His keynote,
“You Talking to Me? How to Communicate with Business in Their Terms,” was full of energy and sage advice. (Which was great since the shark thing didn’t really work out.) Politano, who wrote the
book, Chief Performance Officer, has been used to working with business execs, so he knows what he is talking about. He started off with admonishing us about 7 words we should never use in
a business discussion: Fact, Dimension, Schema, OLAP, Scalable, Linux, and Primary Key. He reminded us that IT lives in dog years, business in human years. Don’t expect business to keep up with
technology. That’s IT’s job, along with translating tech trends into businessese, i.e. finance. Politano then left us with these charges: try to understand the business in its terms, learn what
the business is being measured by, don’t assume that you know their problems, be market aware, and don’t be afraid to say “what do you mean by that.” It was over in a flash, but his message was
strong and clear. No telepathy required.
After the keynote, I sat in on Sid Adelman’s “Data Warehouse Project Management.” Although Adelman looked like neither Goldilocks nor any one of the three bears, this class turned out to be just
right for project and program managers – not too technical and not too high level, and that is sometimes a hard balance to strike. Adelman covered a number of topics that data warehousing project
managers will likely encounter, from selling the initiative, cost/benefits, risks, organization, planning, technology selection, and critical factors of success. He also included topics such as
readiness assessments, how to use consultants, and outsourcing issues. The class fit well with other TDWI offerings and was a must take for data warehousing and BI program/project managers.
After class several friends and I went down to the Terrazza Lounge to have a few drinks and some munchies. Chalib Challab and his trio, Jazz Xperience, were laying down an excellent mix of jazz
standards, Latin and blues. At times, Challab’s execution on the piano reminded me of Oscar Peterson. His son, Jihad Challab, combined the intensity of youth with the maturity of a seasoned vet on
the drums, and Darryl Williams laid down a solid foundation on acoustic and electric bass. This group was a real treat.
I packed up early and hit the road. I wanted to take in Sedona, given that it was only 4-5 hours away and a great place to visit. My wife joined me, and we headed for the Boots and Saddles B&B.
There was never a more delightful way to spend a weekend. Our hosts, Sam and Irith, cooked up a great breakfast and supplied us with super tips on where to go. We did some shopping, went for
several short hikes, and had a couple of great dinners. The beauty of the place and the red rock formations made the trip well worth it.
Next stop – TDWI, Chicago, May 14-19. See you there.