RESEARCH & RESOURCES

Some Surprises, a Couple Shrugs at TDWI World Conference

Expect them when you least expect them: surprises at a TDWI World Conference.

By Ted Cuzzillo, CBIP

"A single version of the truth" would seem to be the gospel at TDWI. It’s practically the law, the ultimate, the first and last commandment. Hands going up with a question in conference sessions at TDWI’s San Diego event were like little bows to this truth. So, when a knowing voice uttered heresy in Cindi Howson’s Wednesday morning session, heads turned.

"Multiple versions of the truth are not so bad," said Norbert Sonner, senior vice president at Bank of America. He explained that he meant interim truths. These are the ones that make do while users await the final figures. If Single Version is six months away, the show must go on. "Every asset has a cost," he said, and for some needs the cost of waiting is too much. The Titanic could have avoided that iceberg if the captain had been satisfied with one interim truth, that it was time to swerve.

David Biggers agrees but from a different angle. He’s a co-recipient of the 2007 TDWI Best Practices award for "radical BI," which he helped build at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, Ca. The Lab’s solution embraces "alternative approaches," including data sheets on the desktop. Many of his users are world-renowned scientists. "You don’t tell the smartest guys in the room that what they have on their spreadsheets isn’t the truth," he said. "We’ve provided tools that help the user discover their own truths if they’re different from the enterprise version."

Throughout the conference, the question "what surprised you here?" also sparked a variety of serious responses on other topics. One of the more remarkable surprises stemmed from the number of shrugs that question produced: In a place that’s all about learning rapidly changing technology, shouldn’t boundaries be stretching and breaking all the time? Generally, the least surprised group (ostensibly) seemed to be young IT workers. The most thoughtful responses came from the business side.

Longtime TDWI instructor Jonathan Wu was surprised that some big companies are only now getting into BI--such as one $6 billion energy company. Wu asks, "How did they get this far?" Laurie Crossett noticed the same thing. She’s VP of business development at ETI, a maker of data integration products. During the show, she heard of a construction company with 10 offices around the country that’s just now easing into BI.

Teradata product marketing manager Imad Birouty agreed. More people than ever seem to understand the pain of data marts, for example. He said "I start showing those slides [on data marts] and they want to skip it. They know already." Surprise, surprise!

DataMirror channel and alliance manager Kristian Smythe reported, "The questions are just better." In particular, people now know what changed-data capture is.

Still, it’s about expectations. XLCubed Solutions COO Michael J. Stephens leaned on the counter as the exhibition wound down and said, "What surprises me is that after all these years, with all this technology, we’ve still got these same old problems." Salesman after salesman, he said, "insists that he’s got the truth." Yet time after time, the technology can’t live up to the promise, and CEOs complain that nothing has changed on their desks. "It’s not the technology’s fault."

At nearly 6 p.m. Wednesday in one of the vast session halls, one of TDWI’s most popular instructors had finished his last session of a long week. In front of ~150 empty chairs, Steve Hoberman paced nearly the breadth of the room for 10 minutes with his head down and his ear to the phone. He was ready to go home. His surprise? "Bananas at the break," he smiled, "Nice and fruity."

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