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Mike Ferguson

Welcome to my blog on the UK Business Intelligence Network. I hope to help you stay in touch with hot topics and reality on the ground in the UK and European business intelligence markets and to provide content, opinion and expertise on business intelligence (BI) and its related technologies. I also would relish it if you too can share your own valuable experiences. Let's hear what's going on in BI in the UK.

About the author >

Mike Ferguson is Managing Director of Intelligent Business Strategies Limited, a leading information technology analyst and consulting company. As lead analyst and consultant, he specializes in enterprise business intelligence, enterprise business integration, and enterprise portals. He can be contacted at +44 1625 520700 or via e-mail at

March 2009 Archives

Having just got back from a presentation tour in mainland Europe, it  seems that in the countries I have spoken that Data Governance came out with a thumbs down vote among CIOs present in my sessions.  In particular in Belguim it would appear to be not on their radar.  Having probed for feedback into what exactly is high priority among CIOs attending my sessions it is almost as if raw 'survival' is taking hold. In other words, any IT project linked to business survival in this tough economic climate will get attention but not much else.  Customer retention, self- service, cost reduction/containment and growth are high on the list. One CIO explained to me that his companys' priority over the next 12 months was to allow customers to customise the products and services they offer much more in the future. Therefore in addition to offering their own product lines on the web, they would be integrating their  e-procurement with many back end e-suppliers so they can buy 'on-demand' to match what a customer wants. This means they want to allow customers to create their own custom 'package' before buying on-line and will stretch beyond their own products to stand out from the crowd.  It seems to me that data governance and data quality to some extent are taking a back seat in favour of investment that will keep the revenue rolling in. I would be interested in your feedback.  Is data governance a high priority in your organisation?    

Posted March 30, 2009 6:40 AM
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Blogging on the BeyeNETWORK occasionally offers up opportunity to open up a good debate. So here goes! Over the last several years I have observed data models in many different BI systems across different vertical industries where so called 'generic' fact tables have been designed with only one 'generic' measure. The objective of the design approach is that the measure in the fact table is supposed to hold ANY metric. Often this 'generic' measure column is then accompanied by some kind of type field to indicate what the measure actually is (what it means)  and some other attribute(s) to indicate the level(s) in various dimension hierarchies that the measure stored is associated with.  This helps indicate the additive nature of the metric. Also if it is a monetary measure it may have a currency field and if it is a unit measure it may have a field to explain the kind of units used e.g. centimeters, litres, cubic metres etc. The stated advantage of these kinds of approaches is flexibility. Adding new measures becomes easy to accommodate as no change to the design is necessary.  It is a perfectly good arguement and certainly appears widely practiced by designers.  

When it comes navigating such designs to develop queries (or even generate them) it is often the case that IT professionals developing reports for the business can figure out how to use retrieve the information required  (although even IT developers can struggle). However when it comes to business users developing their own ad hoc queries and reports I frequently see these users really struggling to navigate the 'flexible' design first trying to figure out what measures mean, if the measure(s) is/are additive and whatnot. More often than not I see this resulting in real frustration among business users who end up getting aggregations in reports wrong and then start to lose faith in their new BI system.  Of course IT steps in to rescue the situation by building more snapshot tables, more materialised views etc. burying generic 'complexity' to make the job easier for the user.  More often than not these users also often resort to switching back to Excel to hold data outside any data mart so that they can look at data in a form they understand.

Have you seen this in your organisation?  If so I want your feedback. Is it the case that so called  'flexible' design techniques are rope for end users to hang themselves with?  My question is this. What is the best way that you see to design fact tables so that business users become productive and can easily understand how to get at the data when building their own reports? I am not so sure that being so generic is of business value.  Sure it is flexible. But is it usable? What use is flexible design if a business user cannot understand it and make use of all that valuable data? Is it not better to have multiple metric attributes in a fact table (if multiple metrics are needed) with each attribute name saying what the measure actually is?  Let's have your input!    

Posted March 20, 2009 2:34 AM
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