Sunday, November 02, 2008

Financial Data Integration

Suzanne Hoffman of Star Analytics spoke to the October meeting of the SDForum Business Intelligence SIG on "Financial Data Integration". There were two aspects of her talk that particularly interested me. The first aspect was that Suzanne has been doing what we now call Enterprise Performance Management ever since her first job, 30 years ago, and she peppered her talk with a lot of interesting historical perspectives and anecdotes.

The most important anecdote relates to Ted Codd, inventor of the relational model for databases, and for his 12 rules that defined what a relational database is. Later Codd coined the term OLAP for analytic processing and published 12 rules that defined OLAP. Unfortunately the 12 rules for OLAP were not well regarded as they not as crisp as the 12 rules for a relational database and people found out that Codd had been paid a large sum of money by a OLAP software vendor for writing them. Susanne confirmed that the software vendor was Arbor Software and the money was $25,000.

The second interesting aspect to Susanne's talk was the idea that data can get trapped in OLAP systems. OLAP hold data in a multi-dimensional cube for analysis, so it is close to an end user presentation tool. OLAP is heavily used for financial analysis and modelling. The Hyperion, now Oracle, EssBase server is the king of the hill in dealing with large data cubes. Susanne reported that the largest cube she knew of was at Ford. It had 50 dimensions with the largest dimension having a million members.

We have system to get data into OLAP cubes so that the financial analyst can do their work, but when the work is done, there is no way to get the data out again so that it can be used in other parts of a business. In my opinion, a Business Intelligence system can and should be constructed so that the data in OLAP cubes is sourced from a data warehouse and is not just lost in the OLAP server. However this approach may limit the size of the OLAP cubes that can be built. Anyway many large companies have already bought high end OLAP servers and their data is trapped in there. The purpose of the Star Analytics integration server is to get that data out.

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