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Leveraging Your Data Architecture for

Enterprise Business Intelligence

An Expert Series White Paper


Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 Today’s Data Landscape


3 The Need for Staged Data: Data Warehouses and Data Marts
6 The Need for Real-Time Information: Accessing Data From
Operational Systems
7 From Real-Time to Instantaneous: Bringing Business Intelligence
Together With Processes and Transactions

10 Designing Your Data Architecture to Support


Enterprise Business Intelligence

13 Conclusion

14 About Information Builders


Introduction
The Internet and the frenzied pace of today’s business environment have created a tremendous
surge in the number of business transactions and the amount of corporate data. As applications
that automate key operations such as customer relationship management, supply-chain
management, and product life-cycle management continue to proliferate, the amount of data
companies must manage grows exponentially. This data, as complex and cumbersome as it may
seem on the surface, is one of the most strategic assets an organization possesses. By finding
faster and more effective ways to turn it into relevant, actionable information, organizations can
shorten business cycles, increase responsiveness to changing business conditions, and gain a
competitive edge.

Enterprise business intelligence (BI) has made that goal achievable. It can empower
organizations to make their corporate data available to an unlimited number of people inside
and outside the enterprise, so they can use it to make faster and more informed decisions,
quickly identify new opportunities, and understand how well they’re performing. Managers and
employees can track key performance indicators and obtain the insight they need to better
perform their jobs; information can be shared with partners and suppliers to improve
communication and collaboration; and value-added or revenue-generating information-based
services can be offered to customers.

But enterprise business intelligence requires a powerful and flexible data architecture that will
enable an organization to make all its data, regardless of its source or location, available to an
increasing number of information consumers. An effective data architecture strategy will satisfy
a wide array of reporting and analysis needs by supporting a variety of applications and latency
requirements. It will also minimize expenditures and promote rapid return on investment by
leveraging and extending the value of existing data warehouses and operational systems.

1 Information Builders
Today’s Data Landscape
Data environments are becoming more and more complex as the amount of information a
company manages continues to grow. IDC estimates that the typical Fortune 1,000 corporation
has close to 50 types of applications and tools, and 14 different database products. The need to
integrate the various islands of information that result from these disconnected applications and
data sources and make it available for analysis, monitoring, and reporting across the enterprise
has become more crucial.

Corporate culture and the increasingly dynamic nature of the global marketplace have also
placed a growing importance not only on the quantity and quality of information a company
gathers, but on the speed at which it can be obtained and shared. Information is the lifeblood
of organizations today, and the faster it flows, the healthier a business will be. As a result,
information accessibility and delivery has shifted from point in time to real time.

Data-Driven People-Driven Process-Driven

Batch Production Ad Hoc OLAP Self-Service Web Alerts/ Business


Reporting Reporting Reporting Reports Services Casting Activity
and Portals Monitoring

Point in Time Real Time

At the same time, a technology-savvy public is requesting more information more frequently. A
growing number of people obtain bank account and credit card transaction information over the
Web instead of waiting for monthly hardcopy statements or calling a customer service
representative, for example.

2 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


The reality is different applications, and even different usage requirements for the same
application, cause different degrees of information latency. And, as data environments, end-user
needs, and business requirements continue to change, organizations must ensure that the data
architecture they implement to support their enterprise business intelligence initiatives is
powerful and flexible enough to efficiently and cost-effectively satisfy their varied demands –
now and in the future.

The Need for Staged Data: Data Warehouses and Data Marts
Today’s most popular and widely implemented business intelligence strategies involve building
a data warehouse or data marts as the centerpiece of the business intelligence infrastructure. A
recent survey from Evans Data Corp. finds that within the next two years, 67 percent of
companies will be using some form of a data warehouse or mart – a significant rise over the 59
percent currently using them.

Why this rapid increase? Because, according to data warehousing guru Claudia Imhoff, president
and founder of Intelligent Solutions, “organizations need an enterprise-wide, coherent
infrastructure that brings every producer and consumer of information together in a reliable,
consistent, and timely manner.”

The creation and deployment of data warehouses and data marts serves as a means of:
■ Facilitating an aggregated or holistic view of information from multiple systems
■ Improving the availability of data to business users and simplifying access by masking the
underlying complexity of operational data structures
■ Eliminating potential performance drains on operational systems

There are numerous ways to build and deploy a data warehouse environment, but a few primary
methods have emerged.

The Corporate Information Factory, or the Top-Down Approach


Advocated by industry heavyweights Bill Inmon and Claudia Imhoff, the top-down approach calls
for a single, centralized data warehouse containing both summary and detail data and smaller

3 Information Builders
dependent data marts that derive all their data from the data warehouse. Inmon, who coined the
term “data warehousing” in the early 90s, expanded on this with his concept of the corporate
information factory, a detailed architecture that can be implemented to support strategic and
tactical reporting environments. According to Wayne Eckerson, director of research at The Data
Warehouse Institute, this method helps enforce consistency and standardization and enables
organizations to achieve a single version of the truth.

The Bottom-Up Approach


This approach is most often associated with Ralph Kimball, who many consider an expert on the
subject of business intelligence. The goal of the bottom-up approach, according to Eckerson, is
to “deliver business value by deploying dimensional data marts as quickly as possible.” This
approach is both flexible and user-friendly. And, because heavy infrastructure is not required at
the outset, value is delivered quickly.

The Federated Approach


The federated approach is not a defined architecture, but a theory that allows for any means
necessary to integrate data assets in order to meet emerging needs and respond to dynamic
conditions. The federated approach “encourages organizations to share the ‘highest value’
metrics, dimensions, and measures, wherever possible, however possible,” says Eckerson. The
most outspoken champion of this approach, Doug Hackney, believes it provides the “maximum
amount of architecture possible in a given political and implementation reality.”

Reducing Latency With Near Real-Time Data


Data contained in warehouses and marts includes an element of latency. There is always a
period of time between when the transaction occurs and when the data is available for analysis.
Therefore, the end user, and the information they have access to, is always a step – or a few
steps – behind the actual operation of the business. Refresh cycles are often days, weeks, or
even months apart, allowing users to easily see what has happened, but giving them little or no
insight into what is happening.

4 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


2002 2006
One Month Instantaneous One Month
17% 11% 3%
Instantaneous
29%
One Week
24%

One Week One Day


17% 55%

One Day
44%

Source: Gartner

These charts, based on a study by Gartner, show how BI and data latency requirements will change over
the next few years.

While information that is weeks old may be suitable for monthly planning and historical analysis,
specific types of reporting would be significantly enhanced with more current data. The ability to
access timelier information can enhance an organization’s agility and responsiveness and can be
extremely useful in many key process areas, including call center operations and assembly line
and production operations, and in specific applications such as fraud detection and financial
transaction processing.

That’s where real-time data warehouses and operational data stores (ODS), also known as low-
latency data stores, come in. These provide a means to deliver more recent information to end
users without requiring direct access to operational systems. A real-time data warehouse or
ODS is updated far more frequently than traditional warehouses, and usually requires multiple
refresh cycles per day. Organizations considering this type of solution should keep in mind
that, “it isn’t the data that determines whether a low-latency approach is appropriate, it’s the
application of the data,” suggest Neil Raden and Ralph Kimball. “In other words, the underlying
business process the data supports.”

5 Information Builders
Each of the above approaches will deliver a unique set of advantages and benefits. The best
real-world business intelligence implementations usually stem from blending these best
practices instead of rigidly adhering to just one. Organizations must carefully evaluate each and
choose the approach – or a hybrid of approaches – that will best address their own specific,
individual needs.

Many organizations have been disappointed with the limited returns their data warehousing
initiatives have delivered. This, however, cannot be blamed on any specific strategy or
implementation methodology, but on the fact that most data warehouse projects are deployed
only to a small number of end users. Organizations can substantially enhance the value of their
data warehouse or mart by simply opening it up to more people and making the critical
information it contains accessible by a broader base of users.

The Need for Real-Time Information: Accessing Data From


Operational Systems
Staged data is a vital piece of any business intelligence strategy and will typically satisfy the
majority of an end-user community’s reporting needs. However, some users, in some scenarios,
will need access to information that is not just current, but up to the minute. For example, real-
time inventory data is critical for manufacturing firms who follow a just-in-time model.
Companies looking to promote a single view of the customer throughout their organization will
need to monitor customer activities and interactions as they happen. And distribution chain
analysis and financial reporting can also be significantly improved with the use of real-time data.

A 2003 real-time information survey conducted by Information Week cites “business agility, cost
reduction, [and] visibility into key performance metrics” as the key drivers of the real-time
approach. But, the meaning of the phrase “real-time data” as well as the requirements for it,
vary greatly from company to company. A recent Computerworld article states that while some
define real time as information entered in the previous hour, and others extend the definition to
include information entered in the previous day, there are many who consider real time to mean
data entered into an operational system within the current hour. Therefore, the only realistic way
to adhere to the latter definition of real time is to directly access operational systems for
reporting purposes.

6 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


But businesses have historically been hesitant to let end users report directly from production
databases for fear that performance of both the reporting system and the applications they
gather data from will be compromised. While allowing all your users to report directly from
operational data all the time just isn’t feasible, providing some operational reporting
capabilities can significantly extend and enhance existing data warehousing and business
intelligence strategies.

Enterprise Information Integration (EII)


The enterprise information integration (EII) methodology offers the most balanced approach to
data access, delivering organized, coherent, and correct data for every information request that
occurs by combining the benefits of staging data with the advantages of allowing access to real-
time data in operational systems. EII, which is sometimes referred to as data federation, can
“create a unified view of your data,” according to Meta’s Doug Laney, and extends the historical
context and rich reference data provided in data warehouses with real-time query capabilities
across multiple operational systems.

From Real-Time to Instantaneous: Bringing Business Intelligence


Together With Processes and Transactions
The increasingly competitive nature of today’s corporate culture has resulted in a reduction of
business cycle times – accelerating the need for real-time information to support automated
business processes. This places additional demands on an organization’s data infrastructure, as
e-commerce and other transaction-based applications are creating a tremendous amount of new
data across enterprises and are introducing new performance requirements that the data
architecture must be optimized to support.

Take the example of a wholesaler who is looking to deploy an application that will make its
inventory, which comes from multiple supplier locations, available for purchase via the Internet.
Data about this inventory – including description, price, and availability – is housed in multiple
databases. Because there is no need for customers to directly access these systems to obtain
general product information, this data can be staged to support customer queries, while still
maintaining high performance. However, when the customer goes to check out, applications
and back-end systems must be called to validate the order by confirming availability, shipping

7 Information Builders
information, etc. The application must then initiate a series of processes needed to fulfill the
order by reconnecting to internal systems in a typical enterprise application integration scenario.

An organization’s data architecture must be optimized to support transaction-based applications


like the one above, as they will often require a combination of information gathered from data
warehouses, as well as operational systems. Ensuring that the proper infrastructure is in place
and that all required information is readily available will help decrease deployment cycles,
improve application performance, and ensure data quality, consistency, and accuracy.

Business Activity Monitoring (BAM)


Business activity monitoring (BAM) is rapidly becoming one of the most talked-about
components of a real-time enterprise. A combination of process automation, data integration
and process management, and business intelligence technologies, BAM solutions link into an
entire data infrastructure to proactively generate real-time alerts based on events pertaining to
mission-critical business processes. These alerts are delivered to key decision-makers so they
can be immediately acted upon or pushed to other applications to dynamically trigger a follow-
on transaction or process. For example, someone completing a purchase order will instantly be
notified if the on-time delivery performance of that particular supplier has been poor in the past.
Or a newly placed customer order that will deplete existing inventory will automatically trigger a
new purchase order, so stock can be replenished as quickly as possible.

Gartner introduced the BAM concept in 2001 and identifies its three main components as:
■ Event absorption – the collection of events from multiple applications as they occur; these
events are transformed into a usable data model, where they can be analyzed with historical
contextual data from a warehouse
■ Event processing and filtering – real-time events are analyzed in context and rules are applied
to determine if there is an irregularity that needs to be reported; the application of these rules
often involves a multistep process that generates its own data
■ Event action, delivery, and display – the system alerts key decision-makers when there is a
problem; this entails creating reports based on information generated in the BAM process

8 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


While the window of time for a BAM process to run is shrinking, it is not instantaneous. As more
and more BAM solutions are deployed, however, the complete process will likely be narrowed
down to minutes. Therefore, in order for true BAM applications to exist, event information must
be taken, in real time, directly from operational systems.

But staged data plays a key role here too. Historical data used to provide context to event
information could come from a data warehouse that’s refreshed daily. And, data related to the
event processing and filtering phase needs to be managed and potentially stored in a
warehouse so it can be audited and optimized over time.

Web Services
With the increasing adoption of Web services, other applications are now consumers of
information as well. By allowing applications to dynamically share information – for example, an
order entry system automatically sending information about a customer order to accounts
receivable, inventory, shipping, and supplier purchasing systems – errors and time can be
dramatically reduced by requiring transactions to be conducted only once, instead of one time
for each system it affects.

9 Information Builders
Designing Your Data Architecture to Support
Enterprise Business Intelligence
Gartner estimates that implementing the data architecture needed to support a business
intelligence environment can account for as much as 70 percent of development efforts and
expenses. To minimize costs and labor requirements, the infrastructure put in place must easily
address current demands for information that come from constituents both inside and outside
the enterprise, and provide the flexibility to easily address changing requirements as
information needs evolve in the future. Setting up the data infrastructure properly from the
outset will also deliver value through improved decision-making and process automation,
enhanced performance management and activity monitoring, and increased responsiveness
to shifting business conditions.

The most successful enterprise business intelligence initiatives – and those that deliver the most
rapid return on investment – are those that offer maximum flexibility, accelerate deployment,
and eliminate unnecessary expenditures. To make this a reality, companies need to implement
a customized, hybrid data architecture designed to meet their unique information needs by:
■ Ensuring vital, relevant, and timely information is available to the right people at the
right time
■ Effectively leveraging existing infrastructure and extending the value of operational systems
and data warehouses
■ Minimizing management and maintenance while optimizing performance

The most efficient and cost-effective way to ensure that your data environment is structured to
support your enterprise initiatives is to select a fully integrated solution that provides
comprehensive reporting and business intelligence capabilities, as well as the functionality
needed to implement and optimize the underlying data architecture. But few business
intelligence vendors offer expertise in the area of data integration and architecture, and most
integration vendors lack an in-depth understanding of business intelligence. By choosing a
single vendor that can deliver the experience and integrated technologies to support both, an
organization can significantly reduce risk, total cost of ownership, and training and maintenance.

10 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


Point in Time Point in Time Near- Real-Time Real-Time
Local Centralized Real Time Data Level Process Level

Data Marts Data Warehouse Operational Operational Data Process Transaction/


Data Store (ODS) Web Service

Business Intelligence Engine

A flexible architecture will make all your corporate information available to all your users, while supporting
a wide range of applications and latency requirements.

Companies should look for a technology partner with core competencies in both data integration
and enterprise business intelligence and reporting, and choose a solution that provides:
■ The ability to access a wide range of data – including data staged in warehouses or marts
and real-time data from operational systems – from any source on any platform
■ Complete extract, transform, and load (ETL) functionality to protect production applications
and preserve system resources by reliably and cost-effectively accessing and moving data
into warehouses and marts; it should also provide full support for near real-time models,
data cleansing to ensure information quality and integrity, and metadata management for
complete impact analysis of the information contained in the warehouse or mart
■ Tools for analyzing usage patterns to provide a full understanding of what data is being
accessed and how it is being used; with this knowledge, the right strategy for setting up
the data warehousing and business intelligence infrastructure can be developed, and the
environment can be continuously optimized for maximum performance, usability,
and availability
■ Preemptive query governing, so data architects can prevent downtime and ensure consistent
system performance of the reporting application and the operational systems it gathers data

11 Information Builders
from by prohibiting some users from initiating certain queries against operational systems
during peak periods; while most governors available today are reactive, choosing one that
governs preemptively will enable administrators to prevent problems before they negatively
impact back-end systems
■ The ability to integrate a variety of applications to support automation of critical business
processes and transactions as well as e-commerce and other service-oriented initiatives

The selected vendor should also have seasoned consultants who can help assess a data
architecture, make recommendations on how to cost-effectively optimize it to support mission-
critical applications, ensure that products are implemented effectively, and train staff to
continuously refine the architecture as business needs change.

12 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


Conclusion
An effective enterprise business intelligence strategy can empower organizations to leverage
one of their most valuable assets – their data – to improve agility and responsiveness by making
faster and more informed business decisions, better manage corporate performance and key
processes, improve customer service, and enhance relationships with strategic partners.

But as the amount of data a company manages grows and data environments become more
complex, the success of an enterprise business intelligence initiative becomes increasingly
dependent upon the power and flexibility of the data architecture that supports it. A well-
structured architecture will satisfy the varying information needs and latency requirements of
users throughout the enterprise and beyond by making all data – whether it resides in data
warehouses, data marts, or operational systems – easily accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any
time. Monitoring data access and usage patterns will enable an organization to properly set up
and optimize the architecture from the outset by helping them fully understand what information
users need to secure. Continuous tracking of how and when information is used over time will
then allow for ongoing improvement of the architecture as requirements evolve and change.

The architecture must also promote rapid return on investment and minimize the costs of
developing and deploying the enterprise business intelligence environment by enabling a
company to leverage and build upon their existing technology investments. Additionally, it must
adapt to virtually any data warehousing or infrastructure strategy, so organizations can continue
to follow the approach, or hybrid of approaches, that best meet their needs.

Organizations looking for an enterprise business intelligence solution should look for a complete
suite that can scale to accommodate any number of people, any kind of reporting application,
and any type of user. Additionally, it must also provide the features needed to implement and
optimize the underlying data architecture – such as access to any critical information asset,
including databases, application systems, and transaction systems, as well as ETL capabilities,
resource monitoring, and preemptive governing. Armed with this comprehensive and integrated
functionality, organizations can provide the greatest reach to enterprise data and make more
information available to more people, at the lowest possible cost.

13 Information Builders
About Information Builders
For more than 28 years, Information Builders has been providing award-winning technology and
superior service to leading organizations around the globe. That’s why more than 11,000
customers worldwide – including most of the Fortune 100 and most U.S. federal government
agencies – rely on us to turn their enterprise data into actionable information that drives
business results.

As the only vendor that provides both enterprise business intelligence and enterprise
application integration as its two core competencies, Information Builders is uniquely positioned
to help companies design and deploy a flexible and robust data architecture to support
successful enterprise business intelligence initiatives. Our comprehensive suite – which includes
over 250 adapters that provide fast, efficient, and reusable access to critical information assets;
extract, transform, and load (ETL) tools for building and managing data marts and warehouses;
enterprise business intelligence and reporting software; and integration solutions to dynamically
link transaction systems and automate crucial business processes – makes it easy for
organizations to build their mission-critical applications, and the powerful underlying
architecture that supports them, at the lowest total cost of ownership.

Additionally, Information Builders’ Consulting organization has accumulated a wealth of


experience by helping some of the largest companies in the world build and refine their data
architectures to reliably support enterprise business intelligence and other mission-critical
initiatives. Our data architecture practice uses a proven methodology for assessing an
infrastructure’s readiness for business intelligence, BAM, or integration scenarios. By helping
companies gain a true understanding of requirements, Information Builders’ Consulting can
enable them to shorten deployment times, increase application performance, and save money.

14 Leveraging Your Data Architecture for Enterprise BI


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