The first step most organizations take to get started with business intelligence (BI) is implementing a query and reporting tool. Creating reports, dashboards, and portals directly from the operational data (the raw data held within the database) is typically the next step.
This approach works well in many implementations and meets the organization’s needs for years. But some operational data can be pretty hard to work with. Most databases simply were not designed for reporting use and many lack the documentation that could make them easier to use. Cryptic column names, complex relationships, inconsistencies, legacy dates, huge data volumes, and many other issues may need to be overcome to achieve the results you need from your BI investment.
Incompatible Sources Create Problems
Bringing information together from disparate sources, where it’s stored in different formats or with mismatched identifiers, is especially challenging. And in today’s complex business environment, you’ll almost certainly need to bring together data from multiple sources. Vendors might send you data in XML files, or you might purchase demographic data delivered as delimited text files, and so on.
At some point, you may encounter issues that just cannot be solved within the reporting tool. It’s not the fault of the tool. It’s the data!
Operational Databases Were Designed for Other Purposes
One of the main reasons for these challenges is that operational databases were not designed for reporting use. They’re intended for use by a software application, which includes complex program logic to translate the data into meaningful information. This is very different from the way you would design the database from a reporting perspective.
Databases Don’t Come with Instructions
Another major issue is documentation. Operational databases are never well documented, if at all. No user manual can tell you where to find the information you need and how to use it, or warn you about its nuances. No wonder it’s sometimes used incorrectly!
Finding the Right Solution
You might be tempted to throw your hands in the air and admit defeat. But solutions are available! You can create a summary table to solve a performance issue, or write an RPG program or three to convert the data into a useable format.
While these “solutions” initially solve the challenges, this make-shift approach to addressing them almost always breaks down at some point. For example, you might end up with a dozen or more summary tables, each built and loaded by a different path, as well as manual (often multistep) processes to combine and massage the data into the required form. Maintaining these tables can be a nightmare.
Department heads spend days each month collating data for month-end reporting instead of doing their jobs. Business analysts show up at meetings with different numbers. Someone finds a major error in a critical report and you realize you’ve been making decisions based on incorrect information.
You can’t blame your reporting tool if you feed it inaccurate and untrustworthy data.
If you’re in this situation, it’s time to consider a data warehouse, or at least a managed data mart environment.
Sequel Data Warehouse Is the Reporting-Friendly Option
A well-designed data warehouse or a data mart environment built and managed by an ETL (Extract, Transform, and Load) tool will put you back on track. Sequel Data Warehouse sits between your operational data sources and the reporting tool. It pulls together these data sources and transforms the data into a much more reporting-friendly format.
Business rules ensure critical calculations and transformations are always performed in a standard way. Rules and data quality checks catch and manage errors in the data. This tool also provides metadata—which is the essential documentation providing report authors and end-users the information they need to use the data correctly.
Sequel Data Warehouse stores detailed information about all subject areas in the business. Data marts are built over the data warehouse for specific business uses, providing data in near-perfect form for your sales reports, marketing reports, dashboards, financial analytics, and more.
When you eliminate the need to manually convert data to the correct format, you also eliminate a lot of headaches. You can stop wasting time massaging data. You can make business decisions, confident that the data driving them is trustworthy. And when you reach this point, you know you’re really benefiting from your BI investment.