Data Warehousing Fundamentals for IT Professionals
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Data Warehousing Fundamentals for IT Professionals

Paulraj Ponniah

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eBook - ePub

Data Warehousing Fundamentals for IT Professionals

Paulraj Ponniah

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About This Book


Data warehousing has revolutionized the way businesses in a wide variety of industries perform analysis and make strategic decisions. Since the first edition of Data Warehousing Fundamentals, numerous enterprises have implemented data warehouse systems and reaped enormous benefits. Many more are in the process of doing so. Now, this new, revised edition covers the essential fundamentals of data warehousing and business intelligence as well as significant recent trends in the field.

The author provides an enhanced, comprehensive overview of data warehousing together with in-depth explanations of critical issues in planning, design, deployment, and ongoing maintenance. IT professionals eager to get into the field will gain a clear understanding of techniques for data extraction from source systems, data cleansing, data transformations, data warehouse architecture and infrastructure, and the various methods for information delivery.

This practical Second Edition highlights the areas of data warehousing and business intelligence where high-impact technological progress has been made. Discussions on developments include data marts, real-time information delivery, data visualization, requirements gathering methods, multi-tier architecture, OLAP applications, Web clickstream analysis, data warehouse appliances, and data mining techniques. The book also contains review questions and exercises for each chapter, appropriate for self-study or classroom work, industry examples of real-world situations, and several appendices with valuable information.

Specifically written for professionals responsible for designing, implementing, or maintaining data warehousing systems, Data Warehousing Fundamentals presents agile, thorough, and systematic development principles for the IT professional and anyone working or researching in information management.

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  • Understand the desperate need for strategic information
  • Recognize the information crisis at every enterprise
  • Distinguish between operational and informational systems
  • Learn why all past attempts to provide strategic information failed
  • Clearly see why data warehousing is the viable solution
  • Understand business intelligence for an enterprise
As an information technology (IT) professional, you have worked on computer applications as an analyst, programmer, designer, developer, database administrator, or project manager. You have been involved in the design, implementation, and maintenance of systems that support day-to-day business operations. Depending on the industries you have worked in, you must have been involved in applications such as order processing, general ledger, inventory, human resources, payroll, in-patient billing, checking accounts, insurance claims, and so on.
These applications are important systems that run businesses. They process orders, maintain inventory, keep the accounting books, service the clients, receive payments, and process claims. Without these computer systems, no modern business can survive. Companies started building and using these systems in the 1960s and have become completely dependent on them. As an enterprise grows larger, hundreds of computer applications are needed to support the various business processes. These applications are effective in what they are designed to do. They gather, store, and process all the data needed to successfully perform the daily routine operations. They provide online information and produce a variety of reports to monitor and run the business.
In the 1990s, as businesses grew more complex, corporations spread globally, and competition became fiercer, business executives became desperate for information to stay competitive and improve the bottom line. The operational computer systems did provide information to run the day-to-day operations but what the executives needed were different kinds of information that could be used readily to make strategic decisions. The decision makers wanted to know which geographic regions to focus on, which product lines to expand, and which markets to strengthen. They needed the type of information with proper content and format that could help them make such strategic decisions. We may call this type of information strategic information as different from operational information. The operational systems, important as they were, could not provide strategic information. Businesses, therefore, were compelled to turn to new ways of getting strategic information.
Data warehousing is a new paradigm specifically intended to provide vital strategic information. In the 1990s, organizations began to achieve competitive advantage by building data warehouse systems. Figure 1-1 shows a sample of strategic areas where data warehousing had already produced results in different industries.
Figure 1-1 Organizations’ use of data warehousing.
At the outset, let us now examine the crucial question: why do enterprises really need data warehouses? This discussion is important because unless we grasp the significance of this critical need, our study of data warehousing will lack motivation. So, please pay close attention.
While we discuss the clamor by enterprises for strategic information, we need to look at the prevailing information crisis that was holding them back, as well as the technology trends of the past few years that are working in our favor, enabling us to provide strategic information. Our discussion of the need for strategic information will not be complete unless we study the opportunities provided by strategic information and the risks facing a company without such information.
Who needs strategic information in an enterprise? What exactly do we mean by strategic information? The executives and managers who are responsible for keeping the enterprise competitive need information to make proper decisions. They need information to formulate the business strategies, establish goals, set objectives, and monitor results. Here are some examples of business objectives:
  • Retain the present customer base
  • Increase the customer base by 15% over the next 5 years
  • Improve product quality levels in the top five product groups
  • Gain market share by 10% in the next 3 years
  • Enhance customer service level in shipments
  • Bring three new products to market in 2 years
  • Increase sales by 15% in the North East Division
For making decisions about these objectives, executives and managers need information for the following purposes: to get in-depth knowledge of their company’s operations, review and monitor key performance indicators and note how these affect one another, keep track of how business factors change over time, and compare their company’s performance relative to the competition and to industry benchmarks. Executives and managers need to focus their attention on customers’ needs and preferences, emerging technologies, sales and marketing results, and quality levels of products and services. The types of information needed to make decisions in the formulation and execution of business strategies and objectives are broadbased and encompass the entire organization. All these types of essential information may be combined under the broad classification called strategic information.
Strategic information is not for running the day-to-day operations of the business. It is not intended to produce an invoice, make a shipment, settle a claim, or post a withdrawal from a bank account. Strategic information is far more important for the continued health and survival of the corporation. Critical business decisions depend on the availability of proper strategic information in an enterprise. Figure 1-2 lists the desired characteristics of strategic information.
Figure 1-2 Characteristics of strategic information.
The Information Crisis
You may be working in the IT department of a large conglomerate or you may be part of a medium-sized company. Whatever may be the size of your company, think of all the various computer applications in your company. Think of all the databases and the quantities of data that support the operations of your company. How many years’ worth of customer data is saved and available? How many years’ worth of financial data is kept in storage? Ten years? Fifteen years? Where is all this data? On one platform? In legacy systems? In client/server applications?
We are faced with two startling facts: (1) organizations have lots of data, (2) information technology resources and systems are not effective at turning all that data into useful strategic information. Over the past two decades, companies have accumulated tons and tons of data about their operations. Mountains of data exist. Information is said to double every 18 months.
If we have such huge quantities of data in our organizations, why can’t our executives and managers use this data for making strategic decisions? Lots and lots of information exists. Why then do we talk about an information crisis? Most companies are faced with an information crisis not because of lack of sufficient data, but because the available data is not readily usable for strategic decision making. These large quantities of data are very useful and good for running the business operations but hardly amenable for use in making decisions about business strategies and objectives.
Why is this so? First, the data of an enterprise is spread across many types of incompatible structures and systems. Your order processing system might have been developed 25 years ago and is still running on an old mainframe. Possibly, some of the data may still be on VSAM files. Your later credit assignment and verification system might be on a client/server platform and the data for this application might be in relational tables. The data in a corporation resides in various disparate systems, multiple platforms, and diverse structures. The more technology your company has used in the past, the more disparate the data of your company will be. But, for proper decision making on overall corporate strategies and objectives, we need information integrated from all systems.
Data needed for strategic decision making must be in a format suitable for easy analysis to spot trends. Executives and managers need to look at trends over time and steer their companies in the proper direction. The tons of available operational data cannot be readily used to discern trends. Operational data is event-driven. You get snapshots of transactions that happen at specific times. You have data about units of sale of a single product in a specific order on a given date to a certain customer. In the operational systems, you do not readily have the trends of a single product over the period of a month, a quarter, or a year.
For strategic decision making, executives and managers must be able to review data from different business viewpoints. For example, they must be able to review and analyze sales quantities by product, salesperson, district, region, and customer groups. Can you think of operational data being readily available for such analysis? Operational data is not directly suitable for review from different viewpoints.
Technology Trends
Those of us who have worked in the information technology field for two or three decades have witnessed the breathtaking changes that have taken place. First, the name of the computer department in an enterprise went from “data processing” to “management information systems,” then to “information systems,” and more recently to “information tec...

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