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Decision support trends for 2000

During the past decade, decision support has evolved from the "hottest" new industry buzzword to a technology that has demonstrated that it can provide significant value to a corporation. Now, as decision support moves into the 21st century, we are maturing in ways we could never have anticipated. It is critical to understand these trends, because they will impact almost every organization. In this column, I will look at the trends that are currently changing data warehousing and make some predictions about what will occur during the next 12 months.

Beyond the Global 2000

I believe that we are starting to see a strong influx of middle- and smaller-tier corporations looking to build their own decision support systems. For the most part, data warehousing has been exclusively reserved for Global 2000 companies. Rarely do smaller organizations contact my consulting company to work with them to construct decision support systems. However, in the last three months I have received calls from several smaller firms looking to construct their own data warehouses.

Global 2000 companies have proven that decision support systems yield strong returns and provide a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In fact, the industries that first entered the decision support arena (retail, banks, insurance, health-care, telecommunications, etc.) now use warehouses on a day-to-day basis. Another factor fueling adoption is that decision support software is becoming a commodity. With the emergence of Microsoft in the decision support market, the cost of software is becoming affordable to smaller businesses with smaller IT budgets.

As we discuss the emergence of these middle- to smaller-tier companies, it is important to understand that many Global 2000 companies will be doing more than their fair share of data warehousing. During the 1990s, corporations raced to build decision support systems as quickly as they could. Unfortunately, in their zeal to do this, too many of these organizations neglected to build the architecture necessary to grow their systems over time. In many cases, these companies built "independent" data marts that are directly sourced from operational systems without a data warehouse. This fundamental weakness is revealed as a data warehouse provides the necessary architecture that allows these data marts to scale to meet the ever-growing needs of the business. Now that Y2K issues are behind us, I believe that many of these same corporations will move to address their decision support issues.

Corporations that have been successful in their decision support efforts will look to implement more advanced decision support architectures. These companies will want to integrate their customer relationship management (CRM) and e-business initiatives with decision support systems to provide new levels of business intelligence. In addition, these same corporations will want to implement more "closed loop" decision support systems. These are decision support systems that capture information from business users and feed that information back into operational systems.

Meta data standard

Industry standard meta data models are critical to allow the various decision support tools to share their data with one another. I believe that the Meta Data Coalition (backed by Microsoft, Computer Associates and others) and the Object Management Group (backed by Oracle, IBM, Hyperion, Unisys and others) will decide to work together to make one meta data standard for data warehousing a reality. They will realize that this is what is best for the industry, as well as for each standards group, and declare mutual victory in this arena.

One thing that will not change is that decision support systems that provide the greatest benefit to their companies will be those that provide definable and measurable business value to the enterprise. Don’t start or expand a data warehouse initiative for the "glory" of doing it. Start one of these initiatives to add value to your corporation.

In the coming months, I will examine topics such as decision support return on investment (ROI), project methodology, meta data and the future trends shaping the decision support arena. I will also examine some "best practice" case studies of companies that are doing decision support well. If you believe your organization is one of these, please feel free to contact me.

About the Author

David Marco is the author of Building and Managing the Meta Data Repository: A Full Life-Cycle Guide from John Wiley & Sons. He is founder and president of Enterprise Warehousing Solutions Inc. (EWS), a Chicago-based system integrator. He can be reached at 708-233-6330 or via E-mail at dmarco@ewsolutions.com.

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