The Field of Dreams Mind-Set

In the movie “Field of Dreams,” there is a famous line – build it and they will come. This line is especially relevant to data warehousing and much of business intelligence (BI) in general. Many organizations have the attitude of – build BI and they will come. And sometimes they do come and sometimes they don’t come.

I recently was at a conference and one of the speakers stood up and said – “Never use the ‘Field of Dreams’ strategy with business intelligence.” I strongly disagreed with him and here’s why.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to go fishing on the northern tributary of the Amazon in Brazil, but where the waters flow primarily from Peru. There were many exotic fishes there, including the world famous piranha. During the week that I was on the Amazon, we moved camp every two days in order to not overfish any one area. We moved up and down the river in a large “mother ship” that pulled several little dinghies.

One day we were moving and on the riverbank we saw a settlement. We stopped and climbed the banks of the river, where we found a village, mostly of women and young infants. The women were making a community supply of manioc. We inquired and no one in this village had ever been to a town or had had any contact with civilization. The residents spent their entire life in their village on the banks of the Amazon.

We found some young men that were in the village, and they took us on a quick tour of the jungle surrounding the settlement. We saw some very interesting and beautiful jungle life. At the end of the tour, we went back to the mother boat in their canoes. As a present for showing us the jungle, we took some Coca Cola and gave it to the young men. To our great surprise, they were absolutely delighted by the Cokes. But it wasn’t the contents of the Cokes that they loved, it was the cold. It was the first time in their life that they had ever felt anything cold from a refrigerator. And they were beside themselves feeling the ice cold Cokes.

Now how does this relate to the field of dreams?

If one had gone back to the village and asked the inhabitants what they would like as a gift, they never would have said anything about an item that was cold. That was not because they really wouldn’t enjoy something that was cold. It was because they didn’t know that cold even existed, certainly not the kind of cold that comes from an icebox. Cold like that just was not a concept that they even knew about. But when confronted with the cold, it was a delight to them. Once they knew about cold Cokes, cold beverages went to the top of their list.

So when you ask an end user what they want in business information, the end user can only speak from the context of what they know. Stated differently, when you ask an end user what they want, it is almost impossible to get them to ask for what they have never experienced. Unless you build a field of dreams, the end user is not going to progress – ever – beyond their known universe. You HAVE to build the field of dreams – or at least a representative sampling of the field of dreams – to awaken the end user to the possibilities. Without building it so they will come, the organization will never progress into the modern world of business intelligence. And that just is not a smart position to take.

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Bill Inmon

Bill Inmon

Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

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