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Dont Stop at How Learn Why (Data Integration)

Dont Stop at How Learn Why (Data Integration)

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Published by: Deep on Sep 19, 2009
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DATA INTEGRATION ADVISER
Don't Stop at How, Learn Why
By Rick Sherman
P
eople involved in business intelligence (BI) anddata warehousing (DW) projects are very fa-miliar with terms such as facts, dimensions,attributes, surrogate keys and slowly changingdimensions. But knowing the terms is notenough. Increasingly, there appears to be a sig-nificant disconnect between how BI or DW systems areactually built versus the best practices described in books andarticles. Clients point out that the concepts in some books andarticles are esoteric because they are not connected to real-life situations. They teach the
how
but not the
why.
Twobest practices that people think they are implementingbut often fall short of are dimensional modeling and thehub-and-spoke architecture.When you don't know
why
you should design a DW a cer-tain way, it's easy to make the common mistake of designingDW and BI systems to look like your source systems.Granted, the target systems (DW, data marts and cubes)contain the data obtained from the source systems, so it doesmake sense that the content
is
similar. Similar content
is
not theproblem; a similar physical design, however, is. Rather than ap-plying the best practice design techniques they've learned tosupport DW and
BI,
people copy the underlying enterprise ap-plications' designs to the DW. This process propagates thelimitations of the enterprise applications for reporting andanalysis without taking advantage of DW best practices suchas dimensional models or the hub-and-spoke architecture.History keeps repeating
itself,
resulting in frustrated busi-nesspeople who aren't getting the information they need.Meanwhile, IT is wondering why BI is not yet pervasive.Enterprise applications, such as enterprise resource plan-ning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM) and supplychain management (SCM), are built for data capture and pro-cessing transactions rather than for reporting and analytics. Wbenyou bring across your transaction system's design into your DW,you significantly constrain the use and performance of your DW.Tbe top enterprise application vendors must agree, as theyhave developed DW and BI systems beyond their underlyingapplications to enable reporting and analytics. They havedone this because of the need for the new data design, i.e., DW,data marts and cubes, to support analytics.Reporting and analytics require two data areas: hub andspoke. Most people understand the need for and benefits of build-ing a data warehouse
-
the
hub.
You gather all your source data,cleanse it and make it consistent. You store your historicaldata once in the data warehouse and then distribute that datamany times throughout your enterprise. "Create once and usemany times" is the mantra you should follow in creating appli-cations, data and services. It is efficient, and it is the mostproductive approach to support reporting and analysis. Mostenterprises accept this as a best practice.But it is equally important to create data marts or cubesfrom the data warehouse to enable reporting and analysis.These are the spokes. The benefit is that it is more efficient tocreate data marts oriented toward a business process or agroup of businesspeople than to continually reinvent the wheelevery time you create a report. Once again,
1
am talking about"create once and use many times."Although most people have bought into the DW benefits,they aren't yet convinced that they need data marts or cubes.They carefully plan the
DW,
but they continually create down-stream data stores in an ad hoc, unplanned manner. Rather thandetermining what should be shared amongst a group of busi-nesspeople or reports, the current approach used by manyenterprises is to create reports that do it
all.
This results in com-plex reports that are harder to design and maintain. In addition,the one-off approach to reporting often results in the businessspending a lot of time reconciling data between approaches.Part of the reason people don't build data marts issimply because they do not fully understand the architec-tures that support BI/DW and performance management. Theyespecially do not understand the
whys.
1 often get com-ments from customers and students that the books theyread are great at explaining concepts but fall short on whyto follow these best practices.The real reason for using dimensional models and creat-ing data marts and cubes is simple: it is the most productiveapproach toward implementing reporting and analytics for thebusiness. Eailing to build tbe spokes {data marts and cubes) meansshifting a huge burden onto the BI and performance manage-ment application layers. Remember, you want to build a DWsolution once so you can use it many times. Build common datafiltering, transformations and aggregations into the data martor cubes, and you will not have to repeatedly build tbem intoeach
BI
report. Ignoring the data marts or cubes means you sig-nificantly increase the total cost of ownership for developingand maintaining BI applications. But tbe more serious prob-lem with shifting the data burden to BI reports is theinconsistencies that usually crop up when reports overlapeach other. This causes tbe business to lose faith in the data andto spend too much of its time reconciling the data.Wben working on DW, BI and performance managementprojects, you need to know the
how
and
why
of the things youhave learned and the best practices in the industry today. Youmay always follow the advice you read, but it is good to knowwhy so you can make an informed decision. 0
Rick Sherman is the founder of Athena IT Solutions Consulting, training andvendor services.
VOM
may contact him at rsherman@athena-soltitions.com.Read his blogat wunu.datadoghouse.cotn.
26 June 2008DM Reviewwww-d m review, com

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