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EII: Dead on Arrival

The only problem with the 'EII for intelligence' approach is that it is absolutely and utterly flawed.
What exactly happens when those distributed queries make their way through to the source systems? For a start, the unpredictable nature of queries will upset the careful load balancing done by operations departments to optimize on-line throughput. Or rather, it won’t, because no systems managers are going to allow this technology anywhere near their delicately balanced systems, at least not after the first time it brings the ordering system to a grinding halt.

The next problem with the EII approach is that there is no history. For transaction systems, you want to archive data quickly in order to maintain high performance (there is no need to worry about what your account balance was last year, just what it is now; last year’s balance can be archived). However for an inquiry like “show me the trend in account withdrawals over the last year in the southeast region,” this does require historical data.

Next, do these vendors really think that all the analysis hierarchies needed are embedded within the ERP systems? To take the example of marketing, there are normally complex segmentation hierarchies for analysis purposes that are usually held in entirely separate places from the core transaction systems, and are not stored along with each order or invoice.

Just as importantly, the EII tools entirely ignore the tedious problem of data quality. It may be news to vendors who have more experience producing PowerPoint slides than production code, but the quality of data lurking in the transaction systems is not what it might be. This is why there is an industry of products to assist with improving data quality, and why a significant chunk of any data warehouse project budget is associated with data quality. Oh that’s right; you don’t need a data warehouse any more, so I guess you may as well ignore that pesky data quality problem as well.

Finally, what happens if there is actually a change in the structure of the transaction system, e.g. a change to the general ledger structure, or the way in which the back accounts are grouped, perhaps following a reorganization? Disappointment using the EII approach, since no history of the hierarchies in place, at that time, is kept. To be fair, this problem can also challenge conventional data warehouse approaches, but at least it can be tackled, albeit with difficulty.

So, with EII for business intelligence, you can’t deal with business change at all, data quality is AWOL, you can’t look at trends, you are likely to dim the lights in the computer room and cause the key operational systems of the company to come to a grinding halt. Other than that, it is a great idea.

Next time someone tries to sell you some software that appears to be a bit too close to sleight of hand, check very carefully the customer references of people actually using the software in this way. According to a leading industry analyst, only two EII vendors can give any decent customer references at all. The software industry has years of practice of writing convincingly argued whitepapers that spin a compelling case, yet only when customers hand over hard cash do they seriously invest in the development to make it work. Always remember the caution used in the wonderful film The Princess Bride: ”Life is pain, and anyone who tells you different is trying to sell you something.”

Andy Hayler is Founder and Chief Strategist of Kalido.

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