This editorial was originally published on Oct 9, 2007. It is being re-run as Steve is traveling.

When I worked at JD Edwards, one of the goals of our business intelligence system was to house a single view of the truth. I recently saw a blog post by Andrew Fryer that does a good job of explaining what this is. Basically it’s a way for us to view some particular slice of data and ensure that it is consistently accepted by everyone in the company as the “correct” data for whatever it represents.

This sounds a little silly, but it’s actually a problem in many companies. At the recent PASS Summit, Bill Baker did a presentation where he actually showed a realistic example of this as a reason to implement Performance Point Server. If you have a contest at a company for the most sales, who wins?

You’d think this is easy, but is it the person with the most dollar sales? Do returns count? Should we account for size of a store or hours worked? Obviously we could define this, but depending on how different people might run reports or calculate things in their own spreadsheet, there could be different results.

It was the first time that I actually understood what Performance Point brings to a company and why you might implement it. Now I’m not plugging Performance Point here, because I think you could wind up with some tool that requires a couple full-time administrators and developers just to get things set up and maintained. And I’m not sure that you can completely control things with permissions and reports. My guess is that people will always want to pull their own data offline and create their own report (often for the purpose of supporting their own position), but it’s an interesting idea.

The single view of the truth is something I think all DBAs and “data people” want. We want to know that a customer is a customer is a customer. We want to normalize data and have relations that ensure we aren’t duplicating data. We fight through the issues of meanings in one system being translated properly to the next system.

A single view of the truth is hard to create, but it’s a goal that I think is worth pursuing. And implementing a data warehouse is a great way to get started on this. By talking with business people and forcing them to give you rules and mappings, and then implementing a source system everyone can use, it can really ensure that everyone in the company is on the “same page.”

And who knows? Forcing business people to define what that single view is might just help them run the business better.

Podcast Notes

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