Big Data: A View From Germany


TDWI -- The Data Warehousing Institute Germany -- has become the go-to center for business intelligence, big data, analytics, and data warehousing. Today, the association sees itself as a mastermind of the German scene and a vendor-neutral platform where users, suppliers, consulting firms,and scientists can touch base and share ideas. I spoke with executive committee member Professor Peter Gluchowski about current trends in big data and other areas.

Gluchowski
Gluchowski

Gluchowski heads the Department of Business Informatics specializing in systems development and application systems at Chemnitz University of Technology, where his research interests include aspects of the practical structure of dispositive and analytical systems for decision support. He is the author of numerous publications documenting practical findings in this field.

What have been the most exciting trends in the past 20 years?

Gluchowski: Over the last two decades, the pendulum has swung between front end and back end. Accordingly, emphasis in tool development has also shifted back and forth. Colorful graphical user interfaces emerged in the early 1990s, but at that time there was no back-end data provision. This situation was remedied later on that decade by, for example, data warehousing. Then development reverted to business applications. Although the various trends only lasted for about four or five years, together they brought about a great deal of progress. Nowadays, both back end and front end have reached a good position. Theyíve been joined by strong focus on organizational matters, which is reflected by intensive consideration of structural organization and process organization in BI.

What are the current trends?

Gluchowski: The current trends were outlined in the papers and discussions at the TDWI Conference in Munich, which was attended by over 1,000 participants and was a resounding success. The effects of the global trend towards digital transformation are especially evident from the high interest in big data analytics. Innovative concepts and tools such as R, Spark, and Hadoop are being examined and discussed in depth. On the other hand, weíre also still working on long-standing themes like data governance, agile business intelligence, self-service business intelligence, and of course all aspects of data modeling, such as data vault modeling.

What trends are set to emerge in the coming years?

Gluchowski: Enterprise-wide BI solutions now have to meet a wide range of different requirements. On the one hand, the aim is to build systems for a consistent supply of data which are distinguished by high quality, stability, and availability. On the other hand, we also see business-oriented end-users who want far more autonomy than in the past. We need to create flexible solutions for them that can be quickly adapted to changing needs. The situation boils down to stability versus flexibility.

How do businesses enter the world of business intelligence?

Gluchowski: Most of them have been dealing with business intelligence for years, sometimes without realizing it! Business reporting for instance is part of business intelligence and thatís something which almost every company engages in. Although there are still some substandard applications in use, improvements are being made by nearly all companies. We recommend setting up a broad, stable, quality-assured database with flexible architecture that can be adapted to changing requirements.

What role does big data play?

Gluchowski:Big data concepts and tools are deployed whenever conventional technologies fail. Whether, where, and when this point has been reached is up to each company to decide for itself. Many businesses find it difficult to define the corresponding business case. The advantages of big data arenít always obvious. Once the business case has been defined, itís time to start exploring technological implementation and new tools.

Big data needs a powerful infrastructure. Is Germanyís infrastructure up to speed?

Gluchowski: Although the situationís fine in densely populated areas, many rural districts are still stuck with very poor broadband. However, federal and regional government are endeavoring to improve online access. Then again, large companies in particular have been slow to embrace cloud services as part of the infrastructure. By contrast, small businesses and startups have fewer reservations, so young businesses are obtaining the speed and flexibility they need much faster.

Are you saying that long-established firms need to get to grips with new technology as soon as possible?

Gluchowski: Of course. They have a cautious attitude to modern technology, but they need to overcome their misgivings.

Are the strict data protection regulations in Germany a snag?

Gluchowski: Data privacy is considerably more restrictive in Germany than elsewhere. In analystsí views, itís a barrier, although it does benefit consumers. Data protection needs to be adapted to new circumstances, not abandoned altogether. But this problem isnít insurmountable. Mail-order firms, for instance, have been studying customersí data and consumption behavior for decades, yet ways and means have nonetheless been found to deal with data protection. Good results can still be achieved with anonymous or pseudonymous data.

Germanyís main railway operator Deutsche Bahn recently opened up its data safe. Is DB setting a good example? Why arenít other companies following suit?

Gluchowski: Although Deutsche Bahn is a trailblazer in the corporate world, the real heroes are public authorities. Federal agencies for instance have already achieved a lot under the National Action Plan for the implementation of the G8 Open Data Charter. Cities like Cologne provide plenty of data, and more and more public agencies are doing likewise. Itís no surprise that commercial companies are a little sluggish in this respect. In the past, businesses were reluctant to share information with other parts of the supply chain. Itís quite conceivable that itís company policy for firms to keep their data close to their chest.

Does TDWI believe it has a part to play in educating businesses?

Gluchowski: One key task of TDWI is to create transparency. We need to explain the opportunities that can be created by disclosing data, but also the risks involved. Only then can a business weigh up whether this route makes sense.

What are the long-term goals of TDWI?

Gluchowski: Subjects like data management and data analysis are becoming increasingly important, especially as a result of digital transformation. One goal is obviously to derive concrete information by interpreting business intelligence. Weíre the foremost community regarding business intelligence and analytics, at least in the German-speaking countries. We organize a string of successful formats which are constantly being expanded and improved. Moreover, we mustnít overlook the new generation of data analysts who achieve rapid findings, in some cases with unusual or unconventional methods, and are very successful in the corporate world.

Charlotte Erdmann, Media & Communication Consultant

Charlotte Erdmann comments on a wide range of technologies from her base in Berlin. Previously, she was the long-serving editor-in-chief of the magazine Mac Life as well as a host of special publications devoted to Apple products published by falkemedia in Kiel, Germany. After graduating in computer linguistics, German studies, and educational theory, she initially focused her journalistic activities on Apple, NeXT, and online media, and is familiar with the worlds of iPhone and Cocoa development. She developed and led the only German-language NeXT magazine, entitled NextToYou. Erdmann became online editor-in-chief at ZooPlus.de in 1999. She later developed the MacLife.de. In 2008, she became editor-in-chief of all Apple publications at falkemedia. She led a major relaunch of MacLife.de and was closely involved establishing its popular Facebook page. In addition to blogging, she is a media and communication consultant, organizing and managing large customer magazines and marketing activities within the IT industry.

Big Data: An Art Form in Itself?

When we hear the words 'big data', we tend to think of vast databases, complex algorithms and endless links between mountains of information. Interestingly, however, big data is also suitable for art, and vice versa.


Re: Centralized
  • 9/13/2016 8:18:27 AM
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I guess to do the same thing here it would need to be trough a university . I can't see our government doing it and a pravte company would always be suspect.

Re: Centralized
  • 9/13/2016 8:18:27 AM
NO RATINGS

I guess to do the same thing here it would need to be trough a university . I can't see our government doing it and a pravte company would always be suspect.

Re: Agile Business Intelligence on the discussion
  • 9/12/2016 11:01:11 PM
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@Seth    It sure is.   One thing that strikes me is the issue of privacy. Even with Centralized Institutions sharing data, the issue of privacy is paramount in Europe. Why such a distinction ? Why are  Americans not more concerned with Privacy ?   Is it implied ?  

Surly no one thinks that is the case but of course there are many who still hold this outdated mode of thinking.

So what is it ? Am I missing something ?

Re: Agile Business Intelligence on the discussion
  • 9/12/2016 10:55:34 PM
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@Pierre   Agreed.  I know if I were considering an analytics tool, the cost would be a major concern.  This is probably the stance of most SMB's and even the enterprise would be foolish to waste resources on "test bed" scenarios,  that are more exploratory in nature than anything else.  

Open source ( as you well know ) provides a basically free means of experimenting and coming to a better understanding of just what Analytics brings to the table.

Re: Centralized
  • 9/12/2016 8:52:55 PM
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@tomsg    Great point.   I was thinking the same thing.  Why don't we have a centralized structure here in the U.S. ?     I am sure American Business will blame it on Free enterprise and Capitalism.  

Well Germany seems to be able to do it while still adhering to Free Enterprise and Capitalism.

Re: Centralized
  • 9/12/2016 11:45:25 AM
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It would be clear that that idea is probably going to work well expecially as industry as pointed out may be lead more and more by "business-oriented end-users who want far more autonomy than in the past," and the challenge to meet their unique needs.

Centralized
  • 9/12/2016 9:18:38 AM
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I would think a cetralized resource such as this would be a real competitive advantage for German companies- especially the small one. The US could learn something from this approach.

Re: Agile Business Intelligence on the discussion
  • 9/7/2016 2:04:24 PM
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It's interesting to see the differences between the U.S. and Germany is trends.  For example companies in Germany are hesitant to go into the cloud while here in the U.S. it's often leap before you leap. 

Agile Business Intelligence on the discussion
  • 9/6/2016 8:00:19 PM
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Good mention of the open sources tools like R. 

It's interesting that the discussion about deploying agile business intelligence is also raised. Many of the latest tools are incroporating open sources solution as well.  Sometimes open sources adds a new dimension in organizational task that an enterprise faces.  Just ask GE, which is now positioning itself as a 125 year old start up because of the IoT revolution, which is powered by...wait for it...open source. ;-)

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