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BI Best Practices: Radical BI, Baby!

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Radical BI, Baby!

I was a judge on three of this year's TDWI 2007 Best Practices award categories, and recently took some time to review some of the other winners. This year TDWI added the “Radical BI” category. I didn’t judge this category but was nevertheless intrigued by some of the entries.

The Radical BI winner was Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In a nutshell, LLNL is the organization responsible for ensuring that nuclear weapons in the United States stay safe and effective through advances in science and technology. That’s a big job. I happened to have one of their managers, Dave Biggers, in my “BI From Both Sides” class in Boston, and he added some wise context to some of the best practices we cover in that class.

LLNL’s data warehouse goes back to 1985, the same year I started working in data warehousing. (No, don’t start doing any math in your head. Stop it!) The philosophy behind their data warehouse, called ASSIST, was that it would be built on a modular architecture that supports both batch and on-demand queries; that it allowed users to create their own “virtual dimensions” to better support intuitive analytics; that desktop data integration would close the loop between user-defined Excel spreadsheets and corporate data; and that an open and loosely-coupled architecture could support myriad business needs.

The evolution of the original ASSIST system has been continuous, arguably even one step ahead of the prevailing technology trends. But when you ask Dave Biggers why LLNL won the award, he keeps it simple. “I’m sure our philosophy of enabling users and embracing direct access and tools such as Excel had a bearing on TDWI’s selection,” he says modestly. “The essence of our approach has been modularity, data stewardship, virtual dimensions, and openness.”

What’s Radical BI, anyway? Well, judging from the Livermore application, it’s about meeting end-users where they are, and providing them with the tools and data they need in order to do their jobs—and doing it flexibly without a lot of dogma. And amid a lot of vendor spin, futures predictions, and market-ecture, that’s radical indeed!

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Hi Jill,
Nice post. I had been giving some thought to radical BI and what exactly that might mean. I like your approach--that it's more of a philosophy rather than a specific technology or methodology. Would be interested to know how others define it.

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