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More Than a Mirage

Business modeling and process orientation challenge BI and data warehousing.

Only when the sun comes up do the colored lights of Las Vegas fade. Through the hotel window, the desert morning looks dry and haggard — or is that just my face in the mirror? Down the elevator a gang of us go, with formal name badges disguising our true reckless selves, as revealed the night before: dice in hand, bets down, and risking it all on a game of craps. Or playing the poker mind games, the dark art of blackjack, the roulette wheel of misfortune, and the video slot machines with their programmed luck: the chance of coming home fatter in the wallet and sporting a changed life makes it seem worth it. Smart, even.

Alas, the loony dreams and free cocktails to nurse them must be put aside with the break of day. Away from the casino floor, deep in the sanctuary of Bally's Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Skyview meeting rooms, there's no Keno, no slots, and the coffee urns are rarely empty. Conventioneers of all stripes and obscure topical interests mingle in search of wisdom that will put their careers on the fast path to wealth and security — and perhaps a little leverage with which to go for that big roll of the dice. At Bally's in mid-February, men and women engaged in rational wagers about the future of business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing. The occasion was The Data Warehouse Institute's (TDWI's) first big educational conference of 2004.

Recent issues of Intelligent Enterprise have featured strong words about real-time intelligence, enterprise information integration, the future of operational data stores (ODSs), and the bottom-line urgency to do a better job of meeting business needs with BI, analytics, and data warehousing. We aren't pausing in our efforts to facilitate such an important debate. In this issue, Neil Raden's guest Decision Support column ("The New Deal") doesn't mince words: "Data warehousing arrived 20 years ago to solve a set of problems that, to a large extent, no longer exist." He offers a business model-driven architecture — an approach supported by some of the newer software providers on the scene, including Certive and Kalido.

A model-driven approach to BI and data warehousing also puts the future of such strategic business applications on a path that is more in common with the wider stream of modern application development. Open integration standards, in this case for metamodels and XML metadata, are critical to enterprise success with a model-driven architecture (MDA). Raden writes: "BI will become better integrated with business processes through common understanding and metadata, without the integration layers to navigate."

Processes, Processes

Raden's observations fit well with our primary editorial theme in this issue: business process management and coordination. We asked frequent Intelligent Enterprise product reviewer Nelson King to give us the lowdown on what's going on with integrated development environments ("Development Tools Are Reorienting") to support what seems to be The Next Big Thing. "Business processes do not by any means encompass the entire domain of application development, nor is focusing on business processes a panacea for simplifying development systems," King writes. "But it is a step in a useful direction." And once again, the process future becomes reality by the grace of open standards, which development tool vendors now perceive as essential to their continued relevance and success.

But before business executives exclaim with glee the promise of a world humming with efficient process automation, they best remember that processes can only succeed by not forgetting a rather important player: the human. "Large-scale business processes — even those now automated to a great extent — still call for human involvement at pivotal points," say Robert Eisenberg and Santtu Toivonen, in our cover story. In fact, just as BI must change as it moves to meet the needs of a broader population of operational users, so must process management systems also adjust in anticipation of a potential increase, not decrease, in human-process interaction.

Back to TDWI

In this issue, we are proud to inaugurate a seven-part series of BI product reviews by Cindi Howson, a speaker at many TDWI events and author of Business Objects: The Complete Reference [McGraw-Hill Osborne Media, 2003] ("BI Scorecard: Query Capabilities"). Howson's comparative reviews and rankings will greatly aid readers engaged in the serious job of evaluating which BI platform is best for their organization. Given the increasing importance of leveraging information resources to create strategic and competitive advantage, Intelligent Enterprise looks forward to hearing your feedback about Howson's reviews and other content we are producing to help you make good BI product choices.

What was the buzz at TDWI in Las Vegas? The biggest rhetorical argument was between "right time" and "real time." While many data warehouse veterans prefer the notion of right time, Nigel Stokes, CEO of Data Mirror, suggested that this was a bit of a dodge: "What customers really need right now is real time — to track shipment status, orders through time, and so forth. That's what UPS and FedEx perceive as a competitive advantage." Stokes, noting his company's recent success, does not see ODSs (perhaps as "Web data stores") disappearing from the scene any time soon.

Ascential Software garnered attention at the show, especially now that it has its ducks in a row with its Ascential Enterprise Integration Suite. Thanks to a series of complementary technology acquisitions, Ascential's Suite incorporates much of what the strategic business application community finds important heading into the future, including service-oriented architecture, real-time integration services, and metadata management. One of our 2004 Companies to Watch, Ascential will likely come up in many conversations as readers try to answer business demands with intelligent technology in the months ahead.