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Goodbye TDWI--It's Been a Great Ride!

This is my last blog as an employee of TDWI. As of November 15th, I’ll be doing research, consulting, and speaking at a different media company, and my Wayne’s World blog will come with me. In addition, I will have my own consulting company—BI Leader Consulting—to do advisory work and assessments for user organizations. I will miss TDWI dearly.

Early Days at PSG

I am fortunate to have started covering data warehousing as it exploded on the scene in the early 1990s. At the time, I was a neophyte research consultant at the Patricia Seybold Group (PSG) in Boston, covering message-oriented middleware. With data warehousing, I found a kindred spirit—I quickly saw that data warehousing was a technology-centric approach to help people and organizations analyze, plan, act, and learn. As a former teacher and journalist, it was a match made in heaven.

I wrote my first report on data warehousing in 1995. I remember hunkering down with Michael Saylor and Sanju Bansal of MicroStrategy, who patiently explained to me the architecture behind their new desktop ROLAP tool. The report hit a nerve in PSG’s audience. So, in short order, I wrote reports on ETL engines (1996), DW databases (1996), OLAP (1996), Web-based query tools (1997), and CRM (1997). As I skim through these reports now, I realize that a lot has changed since then, but much has stayed the same.

During my tenure at PSG, I defined the term “dependent data mart” which became part of the BI lexicon. Later, I coined the term “spreadmart” and more recently “mashboard.” (An industry analyst gauges his self-worth by the number of industry standard terms credited to him ;-) Of course, I had some missteps: I called ETL engines “data conversion engines” and I thought the “information mall” was a surefire hit until the term “portal” came along and went mainstream.

The Origins and Evolution of TDWI

Alan’s Vision. Meanwhile, I attended the first TDWI conference in the spring of 1995 in Washington, D.C. TDWI was founded by Alan Paller, a serial software entrepreneur who detested industry tradeshows and wanted to bring a degree of academic rigor to conference education. Alan was working at Computer Associates at the time, having recently sold his graphics company to CA, so he hired Ramon Barquin, a long-time D.C. consultant, to be TDWI’s first president and titular leader.

Those early conferences were jam packed. TDWI’s biggest event was in 1997 at a run-down, two-story hotel on the outskirts of San Diego near the baseball stadium which more than 1,200 people attended. For me, a fresh-faced BI wannabe, those events laid the foundation for my knowledge of data warehousing and business intelligence and later career at TDWI.

Gurus. I’m forever indebted to the early gurus who taught at TDWI and effectively pioneered the domain. They include Ralph Kimball, Bill Inmon, J.D. Welch, Doug Hackney, Herb Edelstein, Barry Devlin, Margie Ross, Michael Haisten, Hugh Watson, Laura Reeves, David Marco, Pieter Mimno, Warren Thornthwaite, Karolyn Duncan, Jeff Gentry, and Jim Thomann. More recently, the educational torch has passed to a new generation of leading lights, who are taking BI to the next level. These include Jill Dyche, Evan Levy, Claudia Imhoff, Jon Geiger, Stephen Brobst, Maureen Clarry, Sid Adelman, Mike Gonzales, Richard Hackathorn, Colin White, Steve Hoberman, Cindi Howson, Steve Dine, David Loshin, Barbara Wixom, John O’Brien, Ralph Hughes and many others. (I didn’t realize that list would be so long, and I've only scratched the surface!)

The Early Team. In 1997, I met Steven Crofts, who had just purchased TDWI from Alan Paller, who sold the company because of a family illness, and he was afraid that DCI (a competing events company) would kill TDWI in the marketplace. (Actually, the reverse happened.) Paller went on to form SANS Institute, a training company that focuses on information and computer security, which he modeled after TDWI but which is now two or three times the size.

Meanwhile, Steven Crofts became TDWI’s new president and he brought with him two seasoned marketing professionals, Richard Rist, and Ellen Hobbs. I hit it off with this new executive team, and before long, I was co-teaching classes at TDWI with Rich, spreading the gospel of BI tools and best practices.

BI Directors. At TDWI conferences, I started meeting some very talented BI directors, to whom I’m forever indebted for the knowledge they imparted about the nuances of creating successful data warehousing and BI solutions. During a break in one class, I remember coaxing Mike Masciandaro, director of BI for Rohm and Haas (now Dow Chemical), to explain to the class how he was using an Excel “helper app” to connect his Excel jockeys to the data warehouse. We’ve been friends ever since, and I’ve watched with admiration as he has built one of the most effective BI programs in the industry.

Mike is just one of the BI veterans I’ve had the pleasure to meet and learn from over the years. I’ve invited many of these leaders to participate in a TDWI Think Tank (which I’ll have to reincarnate somehow), which includes people from across a range of industries. They include Andrea Ballinger (Illinois State University), Darrell Piatt (CSC), Jim Keene (Harley Davidson), Jim Rappé (Navistar), Jim Gallo (Worthington Industries/CCI), Matthew Schwartz (PetSmart), Ken Rudin (Zynga), Eric Colson (Netflix), M.C. Sankar (Wachovia), Matthew March (Carrington Mortgage), Tim Leonard (USXpress), Mike Lampa (Dell), Jim Hill (1800 Contacts), Christopher Jones (Adobe) Bill Baker (formerly Microsoft), Dan Evans (Avanade), John Rome (Arizona State University), Brian True (Intuit), Carey Moretti (Amylin), Jason Beard (Wiley) and the list goes on….

The Modern Era

I finally joined TDWI in 1998 as director of research services, working with Crofts, Hobbs, and Rist, and I was happy as a clam. However, during the turmoil leading up to TDWI’s acquisition by 101communications in 2000, I left the company. Unfortunately, I was unconsolably homesick for TDWI (just ask my wife). When Ellen Hobbs, the new TDWI general manager, called just after the deal closed to invite me to become TDWI’s director of education, I was ecstatic. It felt terrific to return home.

With belief in TDWI’s potential and a vision for its future, I reinvigorated TDWI’s curriculum and introduced many new products, including night school, hands-on labs, trip reports, executive summits, and research reports. As the research expanded, my position became too big for one person, and we split the job in two. We invited Dave Wells, a consummate trainer and course developer who had been building TDWI’s curriculum, to join as full-time director of education, and I became director of the newly minted TDWI Research.

TDWI Research. Since 2002, starting with a landmark report on data quality, TDWI Research has published more than 30 Best Practice reports, ranging from pervasive BI to master data management. We’ve run more than a dozen executive summits, delivered more than 200 Webcasts, and written innumerable articles and blogs. Phew! I leave TDWI Research in the very capable hands of my colleague, Philip Russom, whom I am confident will hire someone better than me so TDWI can continue to shine brightly as a thought leader in the industry.

The Team

As with any journey, it’s the people that make all the difference. One reason TDWI has a strong brand and high customer loyalty is the people who work there. TDWI is very lucky to have people like Paul Kautza, Brenda Woodbridge, Maria Matthews, Diane Foultz, and Marie Gipson on the conference team and Denelle Hanlon, Yvonne Baho, Steve Cissell, Tina Hansen, Heather Flynn, and Scott Geisler in sales. They are also fortunate to have Jennifer Agee, Deirdre Hoffman, Bill Grimmer, and Roxanne Cooke in production and design and Melissa Parrish, Lesley Nadarski, Seth Birnbaum, Jayson DeMers, and John Bardell in marketing and Web design.

In addition, many people have contributed significantly to TDWI over the years who are no longer there but whose impact is still being felt. I’m thinking of talented staffers like Meighan Berberich, Michelle Johnson, Eric Kavanagh, Sandy Prescott, Margaret Ikeda, Jen Noland, Judy Harbaugh, Diane Allard, Matt Smith, and Jennifer Hay, to name just a few.

Highs and Lows. These past and present troopers have weathered the good, the bad, and the ugly. For example, in 2006, 101communications, TDWI’s parent company, was purchased by another venture-backed rollup, called 1105 Media, and we got a new general manager, Rich Zbylut. After a brutal, internal, corporate-led restructuring, the economy tanked and our attendees cut training and travel expenses to zero. This created a huge challenge for the team, and 2009 was certainly a lean year. But thanks to Rich’s leadership and the fighting spirit of TDWI’s staff, the company had its most profitable year ever. Go figure!

Goodbye!

So, TDWI, it’s been a great ride. I thank you for the opportunity that you’ve given me to teach and educate BI professionals worldwide, and, more importantly, for being good coworkers and even better friends. And, I am deeply grateful for allowing me to be at the epicenter of the data warehousing and business intelligence industry for the past 15 years. I wish you the best!

Posted on November 4, 2010


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