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May the Force Be With You!

  Article published in DM Review Magazine
February 2001 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

Happy 10-year anniversary, DM Review! The past 10 years were an incredible period of time in the information industry. While the term "Internet" was used for the first time in 1982, it was 1991 before the World Wide Web was born and 1993 before the first browser, Mosaic, became available. Just think about it. The primary way we interact with information today, both at home and at work, only came into being in the last decade; now, we take it for granted. The Internet has caused a profound change in our industry, and its importance in the new century should not be underestimated.

While the Internet was gearing up for business and taking the world by storm, there were four other major trends that brought information into the limelight and business intelligence/data warehousing specifically to the forefront of computing.

  1. The data warehouse has gone mainstream. In 1991, historical data to be used for analytical purposes was hard to find. Legacy operational systems were in their prime, and data warehouses were radical and new. Bill Inmon was extolling the virtues of data warehouses, and innovative companies began taking the leap into warehousing data. Data marts had not even been thought of yet, and the term online analytical processing (OLAP) had not yet been coined. Now, data warehouses are critical necessities for every business or organization. Data marts supporting departmental analytical requirements are popping up everywhere. OLAP has enabled multidimensional analysis of information never before imagined. We have gone from talking about megabytes and gigabytes to terabytes and petabytes of analytical information that have been warehoused for use in making better business decisions.
  2. Business intelligence has enabled the masses. The use of corporate information by businesses grew up alongside data warehousing and the advent of the Internet during the last decade. Once the data became available, tools to use it were quickly invented. No longer was programming expertise necessary to get information out of databases. Now, anyone within an organization can use corporate information. BI has, of course, moved to the Web, as well as to wireless devices. Balanced scorecards and other analytical applications have proliferated. Business indicator alerts can be sent to PDAs and cell phones.
  3. Mass marketing has morphed into one-to-one marketing. In the early 1990s, data warehouses drove direct mail marketing campaigns where mail pieces were sent to massive numbers of customers, many of whom did not want to see them. As a result, these campaigns had low response rates. As the decade progressed, data warehouses drove e-mail and instant online marketing campaigns which were permission-based and, therefore, sent to fewer people, but people who wanted to see them. The result has been much higher response rates - as much as 10 times higher than mass marketing campaigns. Reduced expenses and higher response rates have been good for business; targeted messages have been good for consumers.
  4. Customer relationship management (CRM) has fueled the rise of the operational data store (ODS). At the start of the decade, focus was on the business - what the business should do to help itself. By the end of the decade, that focus had shifted to the customer - what the business could do to help the customer and what the customer could do to help him or herself. The main business concern is now managing relationships with customers. The information construct that enabled CRM was the ODS, which provides more current data for instant decisions. The ODS (or sometimes the smaller operational data mart) fuels the movement toward personalization. Customers see just the information they want to see, in the format they like, whenever they want to see it. Companies can now improve their ability to attract and retain customers, thereby making their customer relationships more profitable.

The advances of the dynamic decade of the 1990s now enable anyone within an organization to analyze historical information quickly and easily on the Internet, using PCs or handheld devices. We can market our products and services more efficiently, and attract and retain customers more effectively. We enable customer satisfaction by allowing them to have total control over the information they see. With analytical and operational data now literally at our fingertips, we can turn our businesses on a dime.

We've had data for many years, but the advances of the past decade have enabled us to harness corporate information and create a business force that fuels the economy. May the force be with you!


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Design, Methodology, DW Basics and Business Intelligence.

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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