Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink

I recall when I took a family vacation and we were aboard a cruise ship.  At one point I was out on deck with my oldest daughter, and while I looked out a the massive ocean stretching out before us I quoted a line from a famous poem titled The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, that line being, "Water, water everywhere, Nor any drop to drink."  

My daughter wanted to know what I meant by that so I took a few seconds to explain that the speaker of poem was a sailor who, being out a sea was surrounded by water, but because it was salty he couldn't drink it.  Of course, we all know that today that line is often used in any situation in which someone might find themselves in the midst of plenty of "something" but unable to partake of it.  

As I began my recent research in data warehousing and business intelligence, this line echoed in my head, with a twist "Data, data everywhere….", you get the idea.

It would seem to me that for the purposes of an analogy, data that is being collected by companies is much like the ocean and our not being able to drink that water to survive without first changing the water through the process of desalination.   Just as water is taken from the sea and put through a process to turn it into fresh water, so too must data be taken from the corporation and put through a process to make it consumable (valuable) for the corporation.  

When looking at desalination on Wikipedia, I read that:

….Large-scale desalination typically uses large amounts of energy as well as specialized, expensive infrastructure….

and that too made me think of the parallel in the data world.  Data from multiple source systems must be gathered into a data warehouse and that can often be a complex endeavor that doesn't require a lot of energy, per se, but does require the specialized expensive infrastructure coupled with data warehousing expertise.  Data must be transformed in order to turn it into corporate insight.  I read last week, with great interest, an article on this very subject of business intelligence (BI) that was titled The Advantage of Good Business Intelligence.  In the article, author Peter B. Giblett (follow him on Twitter @pgiblett) makes an excellent point when he says:

Ultimately the Data Warehouse is a tool used by business to supply information necessary for informed decision making. Information is distinct from data. Information is data that has been intelligently processed via a Data Warehouse to allow it to be used for key business decision making. These characteristics are common to all data warehouses, but not all Data Warehouses are the same, they simply share common characteristics, both technically and in the business. These characteristics include the desire to use analysis of performance to drive the decision making process and identify areas to improve efficiency and gain a competitive advantage.

His distinction of data being different from information resonated with me, again harkening back to my analogy of sea water and desalination.  Without a focused effort on implementing & using a data warehouse and BI you have nothing but data – no information.  I would go further, that the data warehouse transforms data into information, and the business intelligence effort transforms that information into corporate wisdom/knowledge.   It is corporate wisdom that you can act on.

Over the next few days I will be posting a few blogs specifically around my thoughts on enterprise data warehousing (EDW) and Business Intelligence (BI).  You can also read some other excellent thoughts leadership on Business Intelligence throughout the Project X blog.
  1. Jim Reply

    I really like the analogy of water and data. One of the key is to use water wisely to advantage as oppose to wasting it. Similarly using data wisely as information is the key. Walmart does a great job of using data wisely because they are smart merchandizers. The key is the way we use the data, like water, that we have as oppose to wasting it.
    Not managing water properly can also cause a flood. I bet most of use have been flooded with data.

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