The Intranet Data Warehouse: A Cultural Revolution

Tuesday Oct 20th 1998 by Rick Tanler
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Is your enterprise's information culture that of a spectator, a competitor or a predator? Rick Tanler, author of The Intranet Data Warehouse, defines the terms.

"The key characteristic of predators is that they do not think like the established competitors."

Information Advantage's Rick Tanler

What is the information culture of your enterprise? Is now the time to change your information culture? Who is responsible for changing the information culture? These are the important questions as organizations begin to make data warehouse content available on their intranet.

When information services managers talk about data warehousing, the focus is on the management of alpha-numeric content stored in databases and the application software for user-initiated reporting and analysis of this data. But consider this: The World Wide Web is the largest data warehouse on earth. It informs millions of users every day. The Internet has been successful, in part, because the emphasis has shifted from personal computing to global information sharing—from delivering application features to delivering content. This is the most valuable lesson of the Internet and it alters the information culture of the Enterprise.

The adoption of Internet technologies, to build secure Intra/Extranets, provides organizations with a remarkably efficient and highly capable means of informing everyone—employees, affiliates, customers, and prospects. Arguably, the most valuable sources of internal business intelligence are contained in the data warehouses.

The discussions of three technologies—data warehousing, online analytic processing (OLAP) and intranets—have become intertwined. The result is a powerful blending of technologies that offers new ways to support the information needs of users. How will your organization seize the opportunity? The answer may lie in changing the information culture of your enterprise.

Virtually every company has an information culture. It is reflected in the priorities established and the methods used to manage, distribute, and use information. The most common part of the information culture is the spectator. The spectator views information as being essential to monitoring every change that impacts business operation from a transaction perspective. Spectators describe their data warehouses as 'the source of the data for reporting and analysis.' To them, the focus of information services is on meeting users' requirements for reports. Every organization starts by being a spectator.

The more interesting segment of the information culture occurs in the organization that recognizes that substantial rewards go to the best competitors, not to spectators. These "competitors" view the data warehouse as a catalyst for changing business-management processes in order to become a market leader. The competitor talks about information in terms of how it supports the decision process. Rather than being better at observing what happened, the competitor is intent on making things happen. He recognizes that access to information initiates change.

In The Intranet Data Warehouse (John Wiley & Sons), I differentiated these two cultures—spectators and competitors—by suggesting that one focused on meeting users' decision support requirements while the other focused on the requirements to improve decision implementation. This separation worked until I began to recognize that there is a third kind of information culture: predators.

Predators occur in an organization that changes the fundamental rules of competition. The predator establishes a new market in its attack on existing markets. Amazon.com is a predator. By creating a virtual bookstore, Amazon found a way to avoid the capital intensive "brick and mortar" retail business model. The key characteristic of predators is that they do not think like the established competitors.

Ultimately, the secret to Amazon's success may not be simply lower operating costs. Amazon.com's key asset is their data warehouse, which contains information on people that are shopping online. Amazon is developing a relationship with these people. Not surprisingly, Amazon is expanding into selling music CDs. Will Amazon become the largest retailer on Earth? Predators are not easily satisfied.

What does this have to do with designing a data warehouse, selecting reporting and analysis applications software (OLAP) and the intranet? Everything! The spectator sub-optimizes the data warehouse. Every organization must develop the reporting infrastructure to inform decision-makers, but this is just a first step. In fact, much of what is written by the proponents of data marts (independent data marts) sounds like an endorsement of sub-optimization, focusing on the needs of a few departmental spectators. I equate this approach to watching the competition not from the bleachers but rather from a knothole in the fence.

Developing an advanced information culture is strategic and demands the full attention of executive management. The most successful data warehouses, those that are generating the greatest return on investment, are part of a change in the decision-making process. The goal is to become a more formidable competitor or predator.

If success requires executive-level support, data warehouses fail for one reason. When users lose confidence in their ability to get the information that they need, lose confidence in the quality and timeliness of information available, or find performance unacceptable, the data warehousing effort will fail. A successful information culture delivers to users the confidence that comes from being well informed and empowered to make decisions.

It is the balance between fulfilling executive management's vision and providing users with the decision-making confidence that is the difficult challenge of developing a successful information culture. Importantly, information services has the ability and the responsibility to influence the information culture of the enterprise.

In the future, the PC as we know it today will look as out of place on decision-makers desks as the typewriter does today. Certainly the power users of technology will maintain their allegiance to the PC. The larger majority of users will use a wide range of hardware devices to access server-based applications and distributed databases. We are entering an era where we must provide users with a powerful information companion, rather than the next report.

About the author:

Rick Tanler has been chairman of the board of directors and senior vice president, for strategic planning and marketing at Information Advantage, Inc., since May 1995. Mr. Tanler is the founder of the company and formet president and CEO. He has served as director of services, for the business unit at Metaphor Computer Systems. He holds a B.S. in Business Quantitative Systems from Arizona State University and is the author of The Intranet Data Warehouse.

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