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Barney Finucane

Welcome to my BeyeNETWORK blog. My main goal here is to address hype issues that come up in the Internet, not to provide any overview of the BI market itself. I look forward to any questions or comments you may have.

About the author >

Barney Finucane has extensive experience in the BI industry. As a consultant, he has supported companies in the chemical, energy and manufacturing sector with the introduction of BI software. As product manager for the company MIS, he was responsible for the front-end products Plain and onVision, and kept a keen eye on projects and tools from other vendors. His areas of speciality include tool selection, quality assurance for BI, data warehouse strategies and their architectures.

One of the advantage that some analytical tools such as QlikView Spotfire or Tableau claims to offer over the products they call "Traditional BI" is that they can be used without data modeling. According to this claim, data modeling is a major obstacle to agile business intelligence and not needed anyway.

Is it true that data modeling is dead? Has technology found a workaround?
The need for data modeling depends upon the application. Products that promise user friendly analysis without any data analysis are usually intended for a specific type of analysis that does not require any previously specified structure.

A good example of data does not require modeling that retailers gather about their customers. This data comes in big flat tables with many columns, and the whole point to the analysis is to find unexpected patterns in this unstructured data. In this case adding a model is adding assumptions that may actually hinder the analysis process.

However, some types of analyses only make sense with at least some modeling. Time intelligence is an example of a type of analysis that is supported by a data model. Also analyzing predefined internal structures such as cost accounts or complex sales channels is usually more convenient based on predefined structures. The alternative method of discovering the structures in the raw data may not be possible.

Planning is a common area of agile BI, and planning is rarely possible without predefined structures. It is no coincidence that the tools that promise analysis without data modeling do not offer planning features. Planning requires adding new data to an existing data set. In some cases, this includes adding new master data, for example when new products are being planned. Furthermore, there is often a good deal of custom business logic in a planning application that cannot be defined automatically. Most financial planning processes, and the analysis and simulation that goes along with them cannot be carried out on simple table.

In my view the new generation columnar databases are a welcome addition to agile BI. But I also think that their marketing is sometimes a little over the top when it comes to dismissing existing BI solution in this area.

Posted July 5, 2011 4:59 AM
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