He Found Article On Data Warehousing Misleading

To The Editor:

I was surprised by the content of Patrick Kassebaums article, “Do Insurers Really Need A Data Warehouse?” in the May 14 issue.

As an experienced data professional participating in the success of the business employing me, I have never read a data-related article that I felt was so misleading.

Kassebaums article is passionate, but I can’t decide whether it represents a true concern for an insurance business’s competitive advantage or whether it is misdirected anger at IT management. There should be anger for whoever explained data warehousing (DW) in preparation for the article! Seriously, the articles condemnations of the sound practice of DW do not reflect any knowledge of how data and databases can be successfully managed.

Go to a DW training class right away! There, one will learn that in DW the whole data conversion process is not repeated for every new business need. Because the integrated data in DW is based on the whole enterprises business data requirements, independent of application systems, its available and easy to access for any new or improved business process.

Take a closer look at how medium-to-large businesses use information technology. Business functions like underwriting, marketing and customer services create much of the same data but process them in different ways.

Data redundancy can be tolerated for data stores of these different “operational” uses, but for DW “decision support” use the data has to be brought together to understand how the whole enterprise is doing.

You know, the IT language can be difficult to understand, but the meaning of some words should be clearly obvious. However, in its criticism of DW providing “scrubbed” data, the article is way off. One only needs to do the dishes to understand that to be scrubbed is to be cleaned. DW data scrubbing adds value to data. Rather than data losing “its richness and particularity,” it just loses the garbage.

Ironically, many of the articles stated DW flaws are actually quite the opposite. For instance, DW hindering “a modern firms need to respond rapidly and effectively to changing business needs” is a blatant reversal of what is commonly stated as DW justification–flexibility for meeting changing business needs is a documented advantage of data warehousing!

Granted, the business has to spend money–so analyze and quantify both the costs and benefits!

Granted, DW will not provide “interfacing seamlessly” with the operational systems, but that is the current problem with trying to have operational systems interface with each other for decision support. In fact, with DW the number of interfaces will be reduced because decision support data will exist for the user in a separate integrated environment. DW replaces convoluted and ambiguous many-to-many interfaces with a precise many-to-one.

Granted, there will be some battles over who owns particular data, but before DW there are data turf wars and another benefit of DW is resolving them.

Finally, using Kassebaums own words, “as insurance companies continue to feel competitive pressure from the Internet revolution, financial services deregulation, industry consolidation and other forces now transforming the environment, they can no longer afford expensive, change-resistant, soon-to-be-obsolete data storage systems that create enormous operational inefficiencies while hindering the pursuit of strategic objectives.” Yep, thats why our business needs data warehousing!

Mike Nath

Data Architect

Seattle, Wash.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, July 13, 2001. Copyright 2001 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.


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