Business intelligence basics

Business intelligence is defined as,

The process of gathering information about a business or industry matter; a broad range of applications and technologies for gathering, storing, analyzing, and providing access to data to help make business decisions.
While I am not an expert in this field I do have a fundamental understanding of the key concepts. The picture below shows a high level view of a simple business intelligence configuration.There are:
  1. Source systems which gather the information that will be analyzed.
  2. Information from the source systems are stored in their native databases or other data sources. Typically the database are configured for speed of processing. This is good for processing transactions quickly but bad for analyzing them.
  3. Information from the data sources goes through a process known as ETL where the data is extracted from the source system, transformed (to meet business needs) and loaded into a data warehouse. Many different data sources can be consolidated.
  4. Information from the data warehouse is made available to end-users in the form of data marts where the data is organized to answer specific types of business questions (e.g., sales data can be cross referenced by product, region, time, sales representative, etc...)
  5. Finally, reporting and analytic tools are used to analyze the information in the data marts. This genre of reporting tools are known collectively as on-line analytical processing (OLAP for short.) There are a few different variations of OLAP tools: MOLAP or multi-dimensional OLAP and relational OLAP or ROLAP. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. For more information on OLAP I suggest going to the OLAP report.
  • Do you need real-time reporting? Is it important to understand what is going on right now? By nature, most business intelligence configurations update their information at a frequency insufficient for real-time reporting.
  • Are there standard reporting needs or are reporting needs of a more ad-hoc nature? The answer to this question my mean that one of MOLAP or ROLAP may be more relevant.

Webinar: Requirements-driven testing

There's a webinar offered by Compuware called, Requirements-driven testing—The journey from business needs to test and user acceptance. The event will occur on February 6, 2007 @2:00 pm EST (11:00 am PST.) Here's a brief description of the event.

IDC’s research indicates that 70-80 percent of IT project failures result directly from poor requirements gathering, management and analysis. With a requirements-driven testing approach, you can improve the quality of your requirements, involve QA earlier in the life cycle and maximize the ability of your projects to deliver on all of their objectives.

Decisions and consequences

Early last year I wrote a post called, Thoughts on decision-making, where I outlined some decision-making techniques and myths. One item I would like to add to that topic is to understand the consequences and ramifications of the decisions you make.
Let's step back and examine this from a business context. Suppose we are working on a project and one of the requirements is simply, "to be able to process transactions from external sources." The design team proposes two solutions:

  • Processing batch files
  • Processing individual transactions (real-time)
Based on cost estimates, the batch file solution seems more appealing. One should consider whether, in the foreseeable future, real-time processing is desirable and whether the benefits of that approach will outweigh the increase in costs. It may turn out that the batch file design still wins out but the ramifications of the decision are fully understood and can be communicated.

You may think the consequences of a decision will be minor and short-lived, but they may become temporary like income taxes.

Ode to preparation

There's a short but interesting post on Mark Cuban's blog, Blogmaverick. He paraphrases former Indiana Hoosiers coach, Bobby Knight, "Everyone has got the will to win, it's only those with the will to prepare, that do win."
When you are working on business requirements, presentations or anything at all, good preparation will improve your performance. Words to live by.