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Real-Time Boundaries

When is BI not BI? Real-time conundrums dominate August's TDWI event.

Ah, the realities of modern business travel: The quiet, cerebral calm of the session rooms during The Data Warehouse Institute's (TDWI's) August gathering in San Diego was a respite from the real-time communications hub otherwise known as my hotel room. The first thing most of us now do when arriving in a new town is drop our stuff on the hotel bed and hook up the computer to the hotel's (supposedly) fast Internet connection. Then we plug the cell phone charger into the wall and open up the line. And last, we hit "power" on the remote control wand, letting the flood of TV newsbytes fill the room. Whether it's the Scott Peterson trial, swift boats in the U.S. presidential campaign, or the latest developments in Intelligent Enterprise's efforts to meet its deadlines, I'm alerted.

Downstairs, speakers, vendors, and attendees pondered where business intelligence (BI) and data warehousing (DW) are headed. All agreed that latency must be expunged from the information delivery and decision-making cycle. However, most would call the goal "right" rather than "real" time. In this view, there's no point in ripping up stable systems and spending precious funds pursuing the demon of latency if the business goal doesn't clearly demonstrate the need.

Yet, as I dropped back into my room, absorbed various information updates, and quickly did what I could to fulfill my role before heading down for more meetings, I wondered if the BI/DW industry is in danger of paying too much heed to market analysts and defining its boundaries too carefully. Seeking competitive and cost advantages through process efficiency, fraud protection, and higher value customer interaction, enterprises are demanding systems that function with as little information latency as possible. Perhaps sensing the limits of current BI/DW technology, companies are showing interest in vendors normally considered outside the BI/DW arena, including business activity monitoring providers Tibco and WebMethods. Companies are also watching progress in next-generation application middleware from BEA, IBM, Oracle, and SAP. To protect its own growth path, the BI/DW industry must be careful not to be too parochial about how it defines itself.

Whatever we call it, the urge to drive down information latency is focusing interest on data integration; extraction, transformation, and loading (ETL) tools; and data quality and customer data management solutions. It has become increasingly clear to many companies that these are the areas where time-consuming bottlenecks slow down the information flow. DataLever, DataFlux, and Group 1, all with software addressing these problems, were among the more interesting companies I spoke to at TDWI.

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We hope you enjoy our somewhat different angle in strategic business applications in this issue's cover stories. Acquiring BI and other software is a complex ordeal; the stuff can make your organization smarter, but you need to be a smart negotiator with vendors to make it happen. With our Readers' Choice Award winners announced in this issue, we can see which vendors our readers feel are having the most success in satisfying their requirements.

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