The Holy Grail of the BI world is “the single version of the truth.” Indeed even I have posed the question to employers, “Would you rather have one person who always had the right answer or have everyone have the exact same answer?” So much time is spent unraveling the dark magic that the single individual employs to produce numbers, which nobody else can ever hope to reproduce it….and then that person leaves the company. So yes, the long term answer is everyone having the same answer because if it is wrong it gets fixed and now everyone has the right answer. Correct?
Well not so fast. I recall a Controller who once told me, I can make our quarterly earnings look as good or as bad as we need them. Accountants, researchers, salesmen, really almost everyone who deals with numbers has perfected the art of making them say what you want. Truth be told I don’t think the Grail exists, not that Grail anyway. Maybe I’m not pure enough in soul to ever find it, or maybe it’s because the Grail is not truly in the form people expect. Maybe a single version of the truth is not the Grail at all. Perhaps the Grail is transparency…lineage. No more secret ingredients.
Cognos BI, and no doubt other platforms, gives us a lineage service for revealing the ingredients. I feel it is a largely undersold capability. At a recent demonstration where I showed a new data mart delivering, to the penny, the exact numbers, names, etc… as an older trusted system people were amazed. Frankly I was surprised by the “to the penny” thing! When asked how I did it, because nobody else who tried had even come close, I clicked the lineage service and showed how my numbers came from the new mart, but also that the relationship identifiers came from the older system and the labeling from an Access database. Yes the dark arts were in full force! So the truth is where the new mart fell short, magic picked it up and lineage (like that guy on TV who reveals magician secrets) showed everyone how to do it! So did I cheat?
In my opinion BI is not about “the single version of the truth.” Truth can always be twisted. It’s about presenting factual data in relevant perspectives so that the same data can have meaning to different audiences. Lineage shows us how these perspectives are generated so when disputes arise (yes that’s a “when” not an “if”), it can become clear that perhaps everyone is correct. It’s all a matter of how you view things; your perspective.
And once you understand this, maybe companies can stop wasting those millions on the single, authoritative data warehouse…but that is a topic for another time!