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Data warehousing around the world

Bill Inmon looks at the differences and similarities of data warehouses in different parts of the world.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK.

The other day I was in an airplane, and just for laughs, I looked at my passport. I was amazed to find that I had been in 56 countries since the issuance of my passport a few years ago. The visits to these countries were not all on the behalf of data warehousing, but most of them were.

So what does data warehousing around the world look like? Are there practices that make one country different from another country?

First off, smaller countries often have no data warehousing activities. Or at least if they do have data warehousing, it is well hidden. So the size of the country definitely relates to the amount of data warehousing activity. Another factor is the vibrancy of the economy. The more vibrant the economy, the greater the chance that the country has data warehousing in its corporations.

Where there are data warehouses, language does not play a role. There are Chinese data warehouses, Japanese data warehouses, German data warehouses, Spanish data warehouses, just to name a few. So there is no bias – either for or against data warehousing – when it comes to the native language of a country.

What does make a difference is the type of and strength of commerce found in the country. There are several types of industries where data warehouses are typically found – telecommunications, financial, and so forth. Where there is a large concentration of data, there usually is a concentration of data warehouse activities.

Another factor is that of availability of technology. For large, industrialized countries, there is no shortage of technology. There is SAP, IBM, Oracle, Business Objects, Informatica and many other technologies that are sold and supported in many countries of the world. But there are countries where some of these basic technologies are not found.

Another consideration is that of support – for the design, implementation and operation of the data warehouse. While technology may be freely available, finding designers and developers is another matter. There is, of course, the possibility of bringing in consultants from foreign countries. The problem is that bringing in developers and consultants from other countries is an expensive proposition. And then, there is the long-term issue of implementation and support. If it is expensive to bring in developers, it is even more expensive to bring in long-term support.

In this vein, having commercial packages such as SAP’s BW and NetWeaver is very attractive. While there certainly is work to be done in designing and implementing SAP BW, at least SAP has already done much integration and architecture work in the building of their technology. Bringing in SAP lessens the burden on the organization.

There is one fairly universal trait shared by foreign organizations building a data warehouse. That trait is that when it comes to avant-garde technology and techniques, most countries lag behind the U.S. Without being jingoist about it, data warehousing began in the U.S. and, as a consequence, the U.S. has long held the lead in advancing data warehouse architecture.

But being 24 to 36 months behind the U.S. when it comes to data warehouse practices is not a particularly disadvantageous. The foreign countries that are carefully watching the U.S. do not step into some of the same pitfalls of building a data warehouse. In the U.S., there is an almost freakish desire to have anything that is new. Whatever else you wish to say about the U.S., we’re anxious to try new technologies and new techniques.
The problem is that not all new approaches and new technologies are workable. There have been many cases of a technology being widely touted by the press that never worked in implementation. In this regard, it is wise for organizations in foreign countries to wait and watch and let others test the waters. When the survivors and flotsam find their way to the surface, the net effect is that party latecomers to do not have to make the mistakes that the early bird has made. So being on the edge of the second wave of technology and approaches is not a bad place to be.

The forces for a data warehouse are as evident in foreign corporations as they are in U.S. corporations. In foreign corporations, there is a need for:

Corporate information. If there is one value of a data warehouse, it is the ability to provide information about the corporation. Raw application data is integrated and the result is the ability to look across the corporation as a corporation. This ability is as valuable to the foreign corporation as it is to the U.S. corporation.

A single version of the truth. There is need for reconciliation in foreign corporations. There needs to be a single place where there is absolute reconcilability of information.

Granular data. Granular data has many values. The greatest value of granular information is that with granular information, the corporation can look at the same data in many different ways and still not lose credibility. This capability is as important to foreign corporations as it is to corporations in the U.S.

Historical information. Corporations everywhere need to see the forest and the trees. And it is historical data that allows this perspective. Stated differently, with only current data, you cannot detect important trends and patterns that have been occurring over time.

These needs for information are truly universal. Corporations outside the U.S. have as much a need for these forms of information as corporations in the U.S.

There is one other interesting correlative factor regarding data warehouses and their usage and acceptance. That factor is one of competitiveness. The more competitive the industry, the more likely there is that there will be a data warehouse. Indeed, around the world where there is little or no competitiveness, there is a very slow adoption rate for data warehousing.

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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