Collecting data is only the first part of the business intelligence process - the facts and figures must be analysed and manipulated in order to have any positive impact on strategic development. But with information coming from multiple and varied sources, maximising the benefit of data is no easy task. Companies attempt to overcome this challenge via data warehousing, which enables them to centralise business information and identify trends over time. The use of a common data model helps companies gain a better overall impression of how they are performing, which can be crucial in tough economic times.
But as IT innovation continues, emerging trends are having an impact on the processes used to analyse data. And with competition fiercer than ever, chief information officers (CIOs) need to be on their guard to ensure their systems are not left lagging behind. Systems which delivered top-level insight five years ago may not be adequately equipped to do the job in five years' time. Information is being sourced from an ever-increasing number of origins, and companies need to keep their eye on the ball.
According to IT analyst Gartner, CIOs must take steps to familiarise themselves with emerging trends in data warehousing and how they will impact the cost-benefit balance of technology. Failure to do so may see businesses gain reduced value from their analysis processes, the firm said. Gartner claimed that the data warehouse is set to remain a key component of the IT infrastructure, but it does not exist in a closed environment and must embrace emerging trends such as the cloud and open-sourcing. "As the demand for business intelligence and the wider category of business analytics increases, optimisation, flexible designs and alternative strategies will become more important," the firm stated.
Gartner also said that advanced functionality for hardware management of input/output, disk storage and CPU/memory balancing are now included "almost as a matter of course" in data-warehouse-capable platforms. It noted that some new entrants are focusing on optimisation as a differentiator. Nearly every data warehouse vendor is addressing the issue of optimising storage for the warehouse via compression and usage-based data placement strategies, the firm said.
"Although there are many reasons why organisations consider buying an appliance, the main reason is simplicity," Gartner stated. "The vendor builds and certifies the configuration, balancing hardware, software and services for a predictable performance." And with businesses purchasing complete warehousing solutions for a ready deployment, the service provider is often the first port-of-call if there are any problems. Yet companies must still understand the mechanics of the solutions they are using if they are to maximise return on investment.
In the majority of cases, companies choose between two main options when deploying data warehousing solutions. As Gartner noted, they either use Software-as-a-Service or outsource their data analysis to a third-party. But the firm highlighted the point that data warehousing in the cloud is primarily an infrastructure design option. It explained that a data model must still be developed, an integration strategy must be deployed and business intelligence user access must be enabled and managed. Still, private clouds are "an emerging infrastructure design choice" for some organisations in supporting their data warehouse and analytics, the firm stated.
Similarly, open-source database management systems are being used in both experimental and more formalised approaches, the analyst explained. While open-source warehouses are rare, small scale and require a more manual level of support, they can offer a high degree of flexibility to businesses at a low cost of ownership. And with some solutions optimised specifically for data warehousing, this is another trend for CIOs to be aware of.
Given the importance of data storage and analytics, businesses should give strong executive-level consideration to approaches in this area. Emphasising this point, Mark Beyer, research vice-president at Gartner, noted that the data warehouse remains "one of the largest - if not the largest - information repositories in the enterprise". "Only by being aware of the key market trends and how emerging technology solutions will blend with proven practices can the CIO avoid budget waste," he claimed.
Clearly, it is all too easy for companies to misdirect funds to inappropriate investments – something companies can ill afford in a constrained economic environment. Businesses need to be able to compile, analyse and report information from different sources quickly, rather than spend time processing different information from different sources. So with instant decision making all important, data warehousing has a vital contribution to make in the world of modern business.