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Analysis

Points of View
Andy Hayler By: Andy Hayler, CEO, The Information Difference
Published: 1st December 2008
Copyright The Information Difference © 2008
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Just in time for Thanksgiving is the general availability of IBM Cognos 8 Business Viewpoint, a new product from Cognos (now part of IBM) that was first announced in October. Many master data management (MDM) vendors concentrate on storing and managing operational master data such as customer, product and location, but vary significantly as to the level of support they have for master dimension management and the life-cycle of that data. For example if you are a marketing organisation then you may have an international product hierarchy. Producing an updated version of this, particularly if the structure of the hierarchy changes, is no trivial affair, and a draft version will need to reviewed and tinkered with by various stakeholders, with possibly several versions being worked on in parallel, and then these modifications reconciled into a final version which is then made live and updated into assorted operational systems.

Similarly, while every MDM product has some sort of hierarchy management, the devil is in the detail. Can you link together multiple hierarchies which map logically together at some levels but not others e.g. a 4 level hierarchy with a 3 level hierarchy, which have three levels in common but has one additional level of detail in the deeper hierarchy? Or how about a self-referencing hierarchy such as a bill of materials situation, where the number of levels in the hierarchy is itself variable depending on the data involved? What about being able to compare versions of the hierarchies, say last summer's sales region with this summer's? In many organisations such things are handled in spreadsheets or custom applications.

These are all real business problems in a variety of industries, and this is where the Business Viewpoint tool is firmly pitched. Concentrating here rather than at the operational data hub end of the MDM spectrum, this tool is aimed more at "analytical MDM", rather like Kalido, Orchestra Networks, Oracle DRM and Statature (until its acquisition by Microsoft). It is a modern, SOA-based tool, intended to allow business users to be able to manage hierarchies and workflow. It appears to handle the complex cases mentioned above, and there is an API to allow customisation if need be for really esoteric needs. The hierarchies and workflow are stored in a relational database repository, and it is possible to import and export the hierarchies via files to other products such as IBM's mainstream MDM technology. There is also a publish-and-subscribe ability to allow changes to be synchronised with 3rd party systems as well as (naturally) across the Cognos portfolio and Infosphere IBM. It is important to understand that this does not store actual data values, such as sales figures or indeed any business transactions. The hierarchies can by synchronised with the Cognos toolset, and through their open interfaces I suggest other 3rd party BI tools could make use of them in heterogeneous environments. This can be used to report off an existing data warehouse, but it is a stand-alone product.

The challenge that IBM will need to address is explaining how this fits with its already rather full suite of MDM technologies, brought together under the Infosphere banner. Certainly both the existing MDM product lines have both hierarchy management and workflow support, so this is yet a third flavour. Admittedly MDM is all about bringing together disparate views of master data, so it will be possible to set up workflow to ensure a managed way of updating the data in the respective tools. However there is obviously a degree of extra complexity in maintaining one set of hierarchies in this tool, and another in the (currently two separate) MDM repositories of IBM's main MDM products. Moreover certain full function MDM technologies, such as Orchestra Network (amongst others) already have this functionality.

On the positive side, there is an opportunity here for IBM to review its long term roadmap and consider incorporating the capabilities of Business Viewpoint, which seems to me quite well thought-out, into its broader MDM vision. Since hierarchy management and data governance workflow support are critical areas for a successful MDM application, at least this will raise the profile of these areas within the IBM product management team, hopefully resulting in a stronger product suite in the long term.

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Published by: IT Analysis Communications Ltd.
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