The advent of the Internet-enabled application has aligned operational systems more closely with business, moving them from being accessible by a chosen few within the company to the public at large.
Business intelligence and data warehousing are going through similar transformations, with businesses demanding their investment support strategic goals more closely.
The days of the data warehouse being an isolated system, fed, maintained and jealously guarded by specialist IT staff have ended. The usefulness of these applications is now being measured in relation to their ability to maintain pace with the constant shift in business needs.
Operating in the global market, maximising resource utilisation through ongoing knowledge management as well as building and maintaining customer relationships are all factors which mean that the traditional sources of information and applications of data warehousing and business intelligence will no longer provide a competitive advantage.
Traditionally, data has been sourced from operational systems with minimal attention given to other data sources. South African companies need to give serious attention to the knowledge opportunities of leveraging other data sources. Marketing information, financial data, geographical information systems data – the choices vary according to the business – can be sourced from companies that specialise in information analysis and dissemination, as well as from business partners. Data can also include graphical images, such as catalogue information, maps and consultant photographs.
The byword is transparency and information from suppliers and strategic partners should be accessible within a business partnership.
The data warehouse's intelligent delivery must be extended beyond the usual front-end of reporting and analysis tools. Integration into the desktop gives operational staff a dashboard pointing to all available information resources. Maintaining market share dictates maintaining mutually beneficial supplier and customer relationships. This requires a variety of customer and marketing information. The data warehouse provides the "melting pot" for data that is accessed from diverse data sources. Specific types of applications, including enterprise resource planning applications and call centres, all have information needs and the integration of this software with data warehouse applications provides those working with customers (both internal and external) with access to necessary information.
Maintenance of a corporate-wide view of information (where is it and how do I get at it?), is supported by the warehouse meta-data repository. Maintenance of data integrity (no duplication, current information) is critical. Many data warehousing failures have resulted from users lacking confidence in the information.
Enterprise-wide and global implementation means that everyone, wherever they are, can get intelligent information whenever they need it. The Internet, extranet and intranet all provide access at different levels. Not only can the salesperson access the latest product information via modem, but this also allows the loading of data from worldwide resources. With the advance of communications technology, there are few barriers to this sort of communication.
The basic application of information today is geared towards marketing and decision support. In future, all applications and packages will integrate with the data warehouse. Information will not just be extracted but also produce new information. This in turn can provide inputs into activities like ordering, sales targets, estimates for resource planning and customer relationship management activities.
As the importance of this to the business process increases, availability will become critical, global data end-users will access and update the data warehouse directly. Business users will also demand a completely integrated package of components, including integrated business intelligence and data warehousing solutions that can be deployed quickly, providing maximum benefits with short lead times.