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How to Manufacture Data Assets

A data warehouse is a home for your high-value data, or data assets. Most organizations build a data warehouse for manufactured data assets in a relatively straightforward manner, following these steps:

  1. The data warehousing team (usually computer analysts and programmers) selects a focus area, such as tracking and reporting the company’s product sales activity against that of its competitors.

  2. The team in charge of building the data warehouse assigns a group of business users and other key individuals within the company to play the role of subject-matter experts.

    Together, the data warehousing team and subject-matter experts compile a list of different types of information that can enable them to use the data warehouse to help track sales activity (or whatever the focus is for the project).

  3. The group then goes through the list of information (data assets), item by item, and figures out where the data warehouse can obtain that particular piece of data (raw material).

    In most cases, the group can get the data from at least one internal (within the company) database or file, such as the one that the application uses to process orders over the Internet or the master database of all customers and their current addresses.

    In other cases, a piece of information isn’t available from within the company’s computer applications, but you could obtain it by purchasing it from some other company. Although a bank doesn’t have the credit ratings and total outstanding debt for all its customers internally, for example, it can purchase that information from a third party — a credit bureau.

  4. After completing the details of where the business can get each piece of information, the data warehousing team creates extraction programs.

    Extraction programs collect data from various internal databases and files, copy certain data to a staging area (a work area outside the data warehouse), cleanse the data to ensure that the data has no errors, and then copy the higher-quality data (data assets) into the data warehouse. Extraction programs are created either by hand (custom-coded) or by using specialized data warehousing products — ETL (extract, transform, and load) tools.

You can build a successful data warehouse by spending adequate time on the first two steps in this list (analyzing the need for a data warehouse and how you should use it), which makes the next two steps (designing and implementing the data warehouse to make it ready to use) much easier to perform.

Interestingly, the analysis steps (determining the focus of the data warehouse and working closely with business users to figure out what information is important) are nearly identical to the steps for any other type of computer application. Most computer applications create data as a result of a transaction or set of transactions while a particular application is being used to run the business, such as filling a customer’s order.

The primary difference between run-the-business applications and a data warehouse is that a data warehouse relies exclusively on data obtained from other applications and sources. This figure shows the difference between these two types of environments.

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