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Data virtualisation drives intelligent new world

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BI Update: New Technologies and Architectures

ITWeb is hosting an exclusive, two-day seminar with BI expert Rick van der Lans. This seminar will assist BI and data warehouse professionals to navigate a changing world. Click here for more information.

While SA may be slow to move to data virtualisation, international enterprises are already seeing massive ROI and increased agility from their data virtualisation projects.

This is according to Composite Software, a global data virtualisation firm hoping to catalyse its arrival in SA with a two-day seminar on the subject next month.

Paul Phillips, Composite Software sales director for EMEA, says: “We are seeing a marked increase in the interest in and adoption of data virtualisation in many regions globally. This is being driven by the widespread publication of successful deployments, especially in North America and Europe, where many of the top companies are including it as an integral part of their data integration architectures. The increased use of fit-for-purpose data stores, such as Netezza, along with cloud applications and big data, mean the traditional data warehouse is no longer sufficient.”

He says international data virtualisation expert Rick van der Lans has been evangelising data virtualisation in the South African market over the past year. “As a result, we are starting to see increased interest from a number of sectors, including the financial services, energy, telecommunications and mining sectors.”

Phillips says the proven benefits of data virtualisation are significant. “The New York Stock Exchange gained a $4.5 million ROI on their first project. Qualcomm, the telecoms chip supplier, saw a $2.2 million ROI on the first five projects and has now over 25 data virtualisation solutions in place,” he says.

Data virtualisation supports the growing demand for agile business intelligence (BI), says Van der Lans, who will travel to Johannesburg to lead the seminar, scheduled for 26 and 27 September.

He explains how data virtualisation improves agility: “Most reporting and analytical tools require metadata specifications to be entered before reports can be developed. Some of those specifications are descriptive and others are transformative. Examples of descriptive specifications are definitions of concepts; for example, a customer is someone who has bought at least one product, and the Northern region doesn't include the state of Washington.

“Alternative names for tables and columns and definitions of relationships between tables are also examples of descriptive specifications. Examples of transformative specifications are 'how country codes should be replaced by country names', and 'how a set of tables should be transformed to one, wide dimensional table'. In a data virtualisation server, those specifications are centrally managed and can be shared.”

This, Van der Lans says, results in faster report development, easier maintenance of metadata specifications and consistent reporting.

In addition, he says, with data virtualisation, data consumers are decoupled from the data stores. “This means they don't know which data stores are being accessed: a data warehouse, a data mart, or an operational data store. Neither do they know which data store technologies are being accessed: an Oracle or IBM database, or maybe Microsoft Analysis Service.”

This delivers benefits such as cost reduction due to simplification, increased flexibility of the business intelligence system, and easier data store migration and data store independence - making a business intelligence system more agile.

It also allows for seamless adoption of new technology, data model-driven development and transparent archiving of data.

The agile BI wave

Things have changed in the world of BI, Van der Lans notes. “BI systems have to become more agile. It should be easier to change reports and it should be possible to develop new ones faster. The reason is shown very clearly in a study by the Aberdeen Group, in March 2011, which reported that 43% of the organisations find that making timely decisions is becoming more difficult.

“Managers increasingly find they have less time to make decisions after business events occur. Less time for making decisions implies there is less time available for the IT department to develop the supporting reports. Conclusion: if BI systems want to follow this higher pace of change, agile BI is a key requirement.”

In addition, business users are asking for tools with which they can build their own reports, he says. In the same study, the Aberdeen Group showed that self-service business intelligence was high on the agenda of organisations. Of the 170 respondents, 64% indicated that enabling business users to be more self-sufficient was their primary strategy for delivering agile business intelligence.

“Business users want to develop their own reports, hence the term self-service BI. They don't want to wait for the IT department. This trend coincides with the coming of a younger generation of business users and managers who are computer-savvy. They know how to use PCs, tablets and mobile phones.”

Another growing trend is that business decisions are no longer made only at the top management levels within an organisation. “Nowadays, operational management is requesting the same kind of BI capabilities, and organisations have shown that this group of business users can seriously benefit from BI applications as well. Additionally, the workforce itself and external users can also exploit BI. The form of BI for these user groups is usually called operational BI.”

Local IT professionals will discover the new trends driving a change in BI during the first day of the BI Update seminar, while day two will focus on data virtualisation. For more information about this event, click here.

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