I teach data warehousing (DW) and business intelligence (BI) courses evenings for the Graduate School of Engineering at a university in the Boston area. I have been doing so for a few semesters and enjoy teaching students. It is fun getting the students’ feedback and their academic viewpoints which many times contrast with my day job, i.e. consulting with IT/business groups and software companies.
Last week, I found out that my students are sometimes skeptical of the “war” stories I tell to illustrate the state of many companies’ BI/DW efforts. A former student sat in on my latest class so she could talk to me afterwards about her co-op job and see if I was teaching my advanced course in the Fall. She said that she has been finding herself trying to keep from laughing when she is working with her company’s BI/DW applications and their users. She is amazed at how many data silos the company has created and how dependent the business people are on these data shadow systems, i.e. spreadsheets strung together to provide reporting and analysis.
She said she has listened to my stories with a grain of salt because she could not believe most companies had so many silos especially those who had invested in DW/BI. She had thought that will all the instant access to information we have via the internet about so many subjects that companies would have their internal information freely available to their employees. She was surprised at how difficult it is for business people to get timely, consistent and comprehensive data. When we talked I laughed. I said I only wish I had been exaggerating in my “war stories”.
This discussion reminded me of the first class that I taught at the University. When the University recruited me to teach DW/BI courses they suggested that I use the same course materials that I was teaching IT and business people in the corporate world with. I assumed there would be some changes but I naively went to my first class loaded with my corporate slides. I was only fifteen minutes into that class when I realized I was in a separate reality from my corporate consulting day job. I was going through some very basic and high-level introductory slides but I realized I was not connecting with the students. It turns out almost all of the three dozen students there were full-time students without a background of working in corporations. When I was talking to them about corporate applications such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Reporting), SCM (Supply Chain Management) and CRM (Customer Relationship Management), they had no frame of reference to understand how business data was created and transformed in a corporation.
The students’ frame of reference has also made it more difficult to build the case for data warehousing and data integration since they were having tough time understanding how scattered data is within a corporation and even more so when interacting with customers, suppliers and partners. As soon as I saw their blank stares I stopped using those slides and started discussing how businesses work, at least from a business data and process perspective. I used examples like iTunes, Amazon and being a student at a university to illustrate the creation and slow of data, as well as, what the business people in these enterprises would like to report on and analyze.
It is great getting other perspectives. Hopefully my corporate perspective helps my students. I know their academic perspective keeps me on my toes.
Disclosure: The picture is not the university that I teach at but rather where I am an alumnus. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI.)