Database clients face wave of data inundation

While corporations amass more and more data in their corporate databases, the need to zero in on ever-more precise information about clients, products and competition grows even faster, according to panelists at an IT industry seminar.

Corporate data used to rest safely in the hands of information systems or data processing departments while today nearly everyone within a company seems want access to corporate information, said Martin Walsh, a senior consultant with Gartner Group. Walsh was speaking at a round table discussion of IT vendors and industry watchers at Oracle France's one-day customer seminar, decision'99, here yesterday.

Calling it a trend to information "democratisation," Walsh said the amount of data housed in corporate databases is growing along with a demand for it from sources outside corporate walls -- company partners and clients also want their own access to information about product specifications, prices, strategy and so forth.

Within the next two years, this size and complexity of corporate databases may lead to a capacity explosion -- Walsh said, calling the explosion a "business intelligence maelstrom."

Part of the problem is that the usefulness of a corporate database does not always increase with a its size, Walsh pointed out. Bruno Fuchs, a French journalist leading the panel discussion, suggested that while corporate databases double in size very year on average, only 10 percent of the data contained in them is accessed on a regular basis. Finding the right tools to extract useful information from the ever-bulging corporate databases can be a full time challenge.

John Herrinck, group director of enterprise computing at Compaq France, labeled the data explosion an "Internetisation" of society. The challenge, he added, is to tame all this data with the right tools in order to improve business -- for example, by enhancing customer relations with a call center that can quickly and efficiently access a customer's data when the customer calls into the centre.

"Such client information comes from no where but a data warehouse," said Jean-Claude Bourdon, chief executive at Sequent France, saying that it's imperative to have a data warehouse capable of delivering precise customer information at the critical moment in a sales or support cycle. If the data needed to help a customer is not available when the customer calls for assistance, he or she may not remain a customer for long.

As companies seek out the proper tools for storing and accessing all this corporate data, a tension is building among IT decision makers who have to balance the demands of users -- who tend to prefer single applications perfectly tailored to suit single tasks -- with their own need to standardise on the smallest number of applications possible, explained Jean-Marc Bellot, marketing director at Business Objects SA.

Gartner's Walsh suggested a compromise -- if you can't standardise on one application for all users throughout a company, at least offer users a standard interface for all sanctioned applications at the office.

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