The Data Mart – underpinning the success of your BI initiative


20 November 2008

Many organisations place great importance on issues such as staff, customers and sales, and the ICT infrastructure that stores, supports and automates these functions and processes. However, information is at the core of all these systems, making the data mart a crucial component within the ICT infrastructure. A data mart underpins the success of business initiatives such as Business Intelligence (BI) and Corporate Performance Management (CPM) and therefore impacts that way that businesses plan their strategic direction and measure the performance of the organisation.

This is according to Craig Moir, Technical Director at RDB Consulting, a company established in 1995 that offers professional database and operating system support, consulting, project management, solutions architecture and more.

He says, “Many businesses regard their data mart as a place to store archived data. However, a data mart is so much more. The modern data mart is flexible and dynamic and allows businesses to tap into information in real time, allowing them to respond quickly to market influences.”

For example, if we look at today’s business environment, it is ever-changing with fluctuating foreign exchange rates and other market influences that make it extremely dynamic. A data mart must be able to keep up with these shifts and changes, providing information that delivers value and the ability to make snap, informed business decisions.

Information in an organisation traditionally sits in ‘silos’ or within a variety of applications. However, in today’s business environment and with the increasing focus on Performance Management (PM), information needs to be extracted from a variety of applications to create an enterprise-wide view of issues that impact the organisation. In order to manage this information properly and have a single version of it in one place, a data mart is necessary.

“Put simply, a data mart is a single repository of information that is collected from many applications and systems within an organisation in an effort to create a ‘single trusted version’ of this information. It forms the foundation for a successful Business Intelligence project. After all, the efficacy of the BI solution is largely dependent on the quality and accuracy of information that resides in the data mart and true to the axiom:

‘garbage in, garbage out’, it can render a BI project useless or even worse, facilitate the delivery of inaccurate and misleading information,” says Moir.

“And it’s not only large corporates that qualify for a data mart. Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) have similar requirements to corporates, albeit on a smaller scale. Many vendors are gearing their BI solutions to the smaller and mid-sized markets and this might necessitate a data mart, depending on the company infrastructure. A significant hindering factor is the perception that implementing a data mart is a costly exercise and requires massive man hours, huge servers, lots of processing power and expensive licensing fees.”

Fortunately, they are not all that costly thanks to open source technology and the availability of the right skills to implement the solution. A small data mart can take as little as a month to implement. However, the catch with any data mart initiative, whether large or small, is that the right experienced skills and resources are required. Developing a data mart requires a very specific skills set and the success of the project is dependent on the depth of expertise that the resources have gained over a number of years, even decades. In order for the data mart to perform optimally, businesses need to look at a consultative maintenance approach and ongoing advice as the data mart is ‘living’ and changes over time. This can save money in the long run as ‘value’ will be extracted out of the data mart if it is monitored and ‘adjusted’ as and when required.

The implementation, methodologies and best practices employed are pivotal to the initiative and can make the difference between a modern, flexible data mart and one that never gets off the ground. Says Gerrit-Jan Albers, BI consultant at RDB Consulting, “It is crucial for the implementation team to have a good understanding of a variety of methodologies — such as those of Bill Inmon and Ralph Kimball. Both have their merits depending on the project and the data mart requirements or drivers, such as speed of delivery and tight integration. With any methodology, customisation and extension is however essential as there is no ‘one size fits all’ specification for a data mart. This requires experience and perhaps some lateral thinking.”

However, once the implementation is complete, maintaining the data mart does not always require a full time, in-house team or dedicated resource. In addition, many of the in-house skills do not have the depth and breadth of expertise or experience that is required which such an ongoing project. Therefore, a prudent approach is to consider an outsourced partner that features these skills and experience as core to their niche focus.

Outsourcing is also a cost effective alternative to in-house resources as their services are required on an hourly or project basis – similar to the ‘pay as you go’ concept. Moir concludes, “Having a well planned and thought out data mart that meets the ongoing need of a business is crucial for systems such as BI and PM, allowing these solutions to extract real value from a trusted source of information. These information delivery solutions are a key component to companies that wish to remain competitive, equipping them with ability access crucial decision making information in real time, ensuring decisions are made before the impact is lost or the opportunity missed.”

About RDB Consulting

Established in 1995, RDB Consulting is a Database and Operating System outsourcing and consulting company that also offers project management, solutions architecture and more. Our services are designed to provide businesses access to expert technical resources whether full time, part time, co-managed or via remote administration. We worry about your database systems so that you can focus on your core business.

For further information contact:

Mark Robinson
Service Delivery Manager
RDB Consulting
Tel: 011-6123013
Cell: 082 893 0925