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Notes from the Giga Advisor:
Data Warehousing Glass Is Half Full

  Column published in DMReview.com
June 1, 2001
  By Lou Agosta

A total of 295 people responded to a straw poll recently posted on the front page of GigaWeb. A majority of the respondents, 60 percent, were unsatisfied with their data warehousing system. Of the unsatisfied 60 percent, 33 percent do not use their data warehousing system at all. In spite of significant satisfaction (31 percent), it appears as though the glass is half empty. Why?

These results suggest that while data warehousing systems can perform well supplying information for basic business imperatives in marketing trends, customer identification and specialized material planning applications, the majority of end users still have demands that are not being addressed. The supply of data warehousing information is misaligned with the demand.

In this situation, the information technology (IT) function is selling what it has available. This is human nature. The IT department has transactional data on marketing, sales, inventory and customers. This data is extracted, aggregated, sliced and diced to provide the business functions with accurate depictions of where the business has already traveled. Even assuming a reasonable level of data quality - which should by no means be taken for granted - business analysts are looking to reduce uncertainty through insight into dynamics that do not necessarily show up in the trends forecasted by data warehousing, data cubes, aggregations and star schemas. This situation leaves end users responding negatively to industry surveys but unable to articulate the details of their dissatisfaction.

Figure 1: Satisfaction with Data Warehousing Solution

What would shift the curve more in the direction of satisfaction? Giga has published qualitative research regarding one suggestion - personalization technology. Business analysts, IT staff and knowledge workers are frustrated as they shift through reams of diverse, distributed, unintegrated and heterogeneous data stores for the answers to their business questions. A data warehousing architecture for personalization would include profiling capabilities, structured search functionality, and agents designed to measure and address information relevance from an end-user perspective. These technologies are still in prototype and design or are just glimmers in the eyes of researchers at industry software labs.

The results of this poll are not an unqualified disaster for data warehousing professionals. As previous Giga research has noted, end users of IT systems are likely to be fussy customers. These customers tend not to express agreement or satisfaction until 100 percent of their requirements are addressed. Options that read "unsatisfied - but use it" or "constantly complaining - but using the system" may not be as negative as they first appear. An end-user complaint could be the highest praise any IT manager or customer service professional can ever reasonably expect to receive. Noncomplainers jump to the competition or, in the case of IT, leave the system on the shelf until new management arrives. If complaints are addressed in a reasonably prompt manner, for example on a priority basis in the next phased release of the system, the situation can be turned around and the glass shown to really be half full.

In the three straw polls that Giga has conducted recently, the greatest number of totally dissatisfied end users (60 percent) came in the July 14, 2000, poll. In the other two straw polls, conducted on April 27, 2000, and May 24, 2000, at a GigaTel and GigaWorld USA, the responses showed only 8 percent and 14 percent as totally dissatisfied. In the Giga-World Europe (June 28) results, 9 percent of respondents expressed total dissatisfaction.

The audience population is most likely responsible for the differences in these polls. In late April and May, the audience was comprised of dedicated data warehousing professionals and thus more interested or even sympathetic. Visitors to the front page of GigaWeb represented IT or business professionals across the board. In some ways then, the later poll is a better gauge of the overall population (which is not necessarily good news). Likewise, GigaWorld Europe respondents reported that 64 percent were either totally dissatisfied or constantly complaining about the system, but using it.

The number of users who are satisfied or whose satisfaction is high ("exceeds expectations") was 40 percent in the front-page straw poll - lower than the 57 percent expressing satisfaction in the GigaTel and the 49 percent in the GigaWorld US survey. These results may also reflect characteristics of the audience. People who participate in GigaTels or attend data warehousing drivers at GigaWorld tend to identify with and be practitioners of the technology, whereas anonymous visitors to GigaWeb are more likely to be neutral and more willing to be candid. It should be noted, however, that the lowest level of unqualified satisfaction comes from GigaWorld Europe where 36 percent of respondents expressed satisfaction and none expressed high satisfaction. In contrast with the situation in Europe, where 50 percent of European respondents indicated they had a data warehousing system in production, the GigaTel and GigaWorld US surveys indicated that 65 percent and 69 percent of respondents, respectively, had systems already in production.


Check out DMReview.com's resource portals for additional related content, white papers, books and other resources.

Lou Agosta is the lead industry analyst at Forrester Research, Inc. in data warehousing, data quality and predictive analytics (data mining), and the author of The Essential Guide to Data Warehousing (Prentice Hall PTR, 2000). Please send comments or questions to lagosta@acm.org.



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