The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) hosts its quarterly World Conference in cities across the US to help organizations involved in data warehousing, business intelligence (BI), and performance management, by giving them access to industry experts, and providing impartial classes related to topics pertinent to the industry. As the industry grows, organizations are faced with questions about how to best access their data to drive profits and meet goals and budgets. The need to understand data warehousing and the best means of leveraging data has become essential to developing a forward-looking approach to a BI solution.
This year, TDWI's summer event was held in San Diego, California (US) from August 20 to 26. Participants were able to take advantage of courses given by worldwide BI experts, as well as network with peers, have access to vendors and product demonstrations, and participate in one-on-one sessions with industry experts and instructors. The six-day event provided one-stop shopping for participants, who were able to take advantage of planned networking events, a two-day trade show highlighting various vendor offerings, and classes ranging from data warehousing testing techniques to best practices in performance management. The advantage of this one-stop shopping approach was that organizations had the opportunity to evaluate software, compare vendor offerings, and gain knowledge from other organizations that have implemented their own data warehousing environments.
The conference focused on five main themes, namely business analytics, leadership and management, data analysis and design, data integration, and administration and technology. These themes identify the main areas within data warehousing and BI, and provide the necessary knowledge related to the whole design and implementation process. A series of classes were offered in each area to allow users to focus on a specific industry aspect, or to gain an overall understanding of the sector and the different driving forces within it. Not only does TDWI focus on technology and the drivers associated with technological advances, but a key advantage to participating in the conference series is the additional focus on the business side of technology, and on managing the business processes associated with BI and performance management.
TDWI delivers research, education, and news, which enables individuals, teams, and organizations to leverage BI industry information to improve organizational decision-making, optimize performance, and achieve business objectives. One of TDWI's goals is to provide organizations with the impartial information required to make informed decisions. Although the organization runs events sponsored by various vendors, and provides users with product-related information, TDWI touts itself as being a central impartial resource for information. Business and information technology (IT) evaluators of solutions—whether in the requirements-gathering or enhancement phase of a current platform—can access a wide range of information, including classes, webinars, on-site training, and research.
TDWI has an international membership program, and provides industry publications and news, and a comprehensive web site. A division of 1105 Media, TDWI was created in 1995. It has over 5,000 members from Fortune 1000 companies, and includes both business and technology professionals. It is regarded as one of the central organizations for collecting data and providing insight into the world of data warehousing and BI.
TDWI collects and promotes best practices research to educate technical and business professionals about new BI technologies, concepts, and the approaches that have been applied in other organizations. This research also addresses significant issues and problems that organizations have experienced, and how they were handled. Many companies use TDWI's information to identify how they measure up to industry standards, how to take advantage of new or upcoming technologies, and how to address issues that relate to how they conduct business. The benefit of this information is two-fold. First of all, organizations can keep on top of enhancements within the industry, and can gain a wider knowledge base than that provided to them by their service provider (their selected vendor). Secondly, TDWI can help drive industry trends by leveraging the needs of organizations, as well as the way vendors should develop products to meet those needs.
TDWI's annual BI Benchmark Report identifies best practice metrics and compares TDWI's data warehousing maturity model to the industry. Many organizations consult this report to benchmark their BI use to ensure they are optimizing their implemented solutions, and discover ways to continuously improve their technical platforms and BI environments. This can include comparing their current environment with other organizations, or looking at information about other organizations within their vertical markets. TDWI also distributes other industry-related publications:
- The Business Intelligence Journal, published biannually, provides information and resources for BI and data warehousing professionals. The focus is on actionable advice on how to plan, build, and deploy BI and data warehousing solutions.
- Ten Mistakes to Avoid is distributed quarterly, and advises readers on different topics related to building, deploying, or maintaining a data warehouse, or managing a data warehouse team.
- What Works: Best Practices in Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing, also distributed quarterly, gives readers a comprehensive collection of case studies, questions and answers, and lessons learned from the experts.
- TDWI e-mail newsletters provide up-to-date news and industry commentary.
These publications provide users with continual information on the industry, and can help identify pitfalls in order to prevent them from making those same mistakes. Also, organizations that are in the same situations can gain insights on how to solve issues, as well as learn from other organizations and industry experts.
TDWI also develops webinars to discuss pertinent issues in the BI and data warehousing industry, and gives training at customer sites. TDWI seminars deal with the skills and techniques used to ensure successful implementations of BI and data warehousing projects. Overall, TDWI leverages its decade of experience within the data warehousing and BI industries to provide organizations with the information needed to make the best decisions possible. This way, organizations can access information that is industry-specific (without a bias towards one vendor versus another), and benchmark their own BI and data warehousing environments against organizations that have more experience implementing and growing these solutions. Also, organizations can compare and contrast challenges and issues as they arise.
TDWI Conference Tracks
Each of the quarterly conferences focuses on different tracks. These tracks present business and IT users with classes and seminars that highlight main industry trends, and provide a basis for enhancing their current data warehousing and BI environments (or aid in the requirements and selection process to implement such an environment). Not only do classes provide a wealth of information that can be justly described as verging on information overload, but in-class exercises, depending on the class, allow users to internalize the information to which they are being exposed. Aside from diverse and in-depth topics, the instructors are experts (whether within their respective industries, or their consultancy practices). Not only can users learn about the topics being presented, but they can also meet with experts to gain additional insight into topics directed specifically to their organizations.
Over fifty classes were offered during this summer's six-day conference. Topics ranged from data warehousing testing techniques to performance management benchmarking practices, in either full-day or half-day sessions. This allowed participants to learn about the latest trends, best practices, and industry insights on how to improve their current structure or enhance their technical platforms. Five tracks were presented during the event:
- Business Analytics
The business analytics track focused on both business and technical aspects of analysis. Topics included performance management, the definition and delivery of business metrics, data visualization, and the deployment and use of technology solutions. Solutions discussed included online analytical processing (OLAP), dashboards, scorecards, and data mining, as well as analytic applications. This focus allows organizations to gain insight into areas within BI and the different aspects of insight that analytics can provide. Organizations that require a subset of BI can identify how their needs can be met, by identifying requirements based on the topics presented. Additionally, they can take advantage of the trade show to identify those vendors that meet their needs, or those that (while not all-encompassing BI vendors) play in a specific space within the industry, such as data mining or data integration.
- Leadership and Management
The leadership and management track provided users with the insights needed to take a project from inception through to completion. Aside from identifying process and project management methodologies related to data warehousing and BI projects, emphasis was placed on the overall management of these projects. Ideas presented ranged from team building and the high level technical requirements needed to manage such projects, to other business areas such as customer relationship management (CRM) and supply chain management (SCM). This focus allowed users to identify a broad range of topics and considerations needed to implement and manage a data warehousing project through the systems development life cycle. Additionally, outside markets were identified to show the interrelation between BI and other industries. For example, many operational BI efforts are driven by SCM and the need to manage day-to-day decisions from the shop floor.
- Data Analysis and Design
A key focus of the data analysis and design theme centered on the skills needed to identify business needs and to transform those needs into data structures that are adaptable, extensible, and sustainable to the business unit. Course topics included needs analysis, specifications of business metrics, and data modeling. These topics and surrounding concepts encompass the backbone of developing a data warehousing and BI platform. Identifying business and systems requirements and translating them into the appropriate systems requirements is essential within any project. Within data warehousing and BI, it becomes more important as platforms are designed, and as business needs analysis has to be integrated into the actual design of the platform. Integration questions center on whether the current systems will integrate with the new software—and more importantly, how they will integrate.
- Data Integration
The theme of data integration included all the topics related to implementing a data warehouse solution. Included were data profiling; data transformation; data cleansing; source and target mapping; data cleansing and transformation; and extract, transform, and load (ETL) development. It is important not to underestimate the importance of data integration, as the way data is integrated into a data warehouse or BI solution is the essence of that system. If a scorecard is developed to measure an organization's sales metrics and the source data is not accurate, the key performance indicators (KPIs) set and reported on will be meaningless.
- Administration and Technology
The administration and technology track identified and covered topics related to infrastructure management, and the continued successful operation of data warehousing and BI solutions. The focus was on technology architecture, planning and configuration, system and network administration, database administration, and access and security administration. Maintenance of the implemented architecture and platform is essential to continued success in the data warehousing and BI environment. This section helped bridge the gap between administration and technology, and identifies the complexity of managing these two aspects of a data warehouse.
TDWI provided an overall view of BI and the data warehousing industry. With a two-day trade show hosted in the midst of the conference, participants were able to take part in vendor demonstrations and learn about solutions, bridging the gap between the theoretical topics discussed in classes and the actual offerings provided by vendors. The advantage of this kind of forum is that users have the opportunity to get a high level overview of many solutions at once. This, coupled with the in-depth course of study, allows users to take full advantage of their time, and to gain insights into specific areas within the industry. However, with so many tracks to choose from, users may not be able to attend every class of interest, thereby necessitating attendance at multiple conferences.