The Data-Warehouse Advantage, Part II - InformationWeek
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Rick Whiting
Rick Whiting

The Data-Warehouse Advantage, Part II

Data-warehousing projects are costly and complex, but when done right can boost a company's performance. Here are four more companies who are winners in this year's Data Warehousing Institute Awards.

Data-warehousing projects, when successful, can boost operating efficiency, lower operating costs, and bring companies closer to their customers. Here are four more companies who are winners in this year's Data Warehousing Institute Awards:

Metadata management might seem like something that only a database administrator would care about. But at Toyota Motor Sales USA everyone cares about the performance of the company's customer-service, financial-accounting, parts-inventory, vehicle-tracking, and order-management data warehouse applications.

Despite having access to 1.5 terabytes of data stored in the automaker's multiple data warehouses, applications using that data were taking too long to process queries. "We needed something faster," says John Gonzales, manager of data quality for enterprise data management.

Gonzales' team assembled a central repository in 2000 containing technical and business metadata. Metadata is "data about the data," such as data definitions and indexes that make it easier to locate information spread across multiple systems. Such a repository, for example, provides a consistent definition of a vehicle identification number even if VINs are defined differently in vehicle tracking, auto warranty, and parts inventories within different databases.

To build the repository, Toyota used PowerCenter data-integration software from Informatica Corp., data-profiling software from Evoke Software Corp., and custom-developed data-quality and metadata-management tools. The system won The Data Warehousing Institute's award for best data warehouse in the metadata management category.

The repository does more than improve the performance of Toyota's data warehouses. IT workers and business users can access the metadata to better understand the information that's available for applications to access and for generating reports. It also provides an efficient way to maintain data quality and makes it easier to identify changes in data fields or data mappings. Says Gonzalez: "It's Toyota knowledge being put to its best use across the enterprise."

In the late 1990s Iowa had a tax gap, a polite way of describing companies and individuals who either didn't file state tax returns or under-reported their earnings. To identify noncompliant taxpayers, the Iowa Department of Revenue and Finance relied on a hodgepodge of mainframe applications, file extracts, and some 20 disparate standalone systems (databases, mainframe data, and information on individual spreadsheets, to name a few) that couldn't communicate with each other.

"Typically, when we tried to match data from one system to another, it took a long time," says Rhonda Kirkpatrick, the department's executive officer. What was needed was a central data warehouse to pull together information from all those disparate systems for analysis. But getting funding from the state for such a large-scale project wasn't an option.

So the Iowa Legislature approved a plan to build a data warehouse that would be funded using the additional tax revenue it generated by catching tax scofflaws. This unique performance-based funding approach to paying for a big-ticket government IT project earned the department The Data Warehousing Institute's award for best data warehouse by a government or nonprofit organization.

Development of the data warehouse began in November 1999 and it became operational five months later. Built using NCR Corp.'s Teradata hardware and software, the system combines data from the department's own tax and accounts-receivable systems, tax files shared by the federal Internal Revenue Service, the Iowa Workforce Development Agency, and a number of other sources. Revenue- and finance-department employees analyze the data using reporting software from Business Objects.

In the three years since it went live, the data warehouse has generated $28 million in tax revenue and is expected to generate $10 million each year from now on. The next step, Kirkpatrick says, is to use the data warehouse to better understand why taxpayers might be in noncompliance. That will involve analyzing taxpayer demographics and changes in tax laws and policies.

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