Praise Be To Codd
October 1 1993 by Robert Bittlestone
Kevin: Bob, cancel all your appointments. I simply have to tell you about a wondrous event that has just changed the IT world forever.
Bob: One of your computer projects came in on time and within budget?
Kevin: No, not quite as radical as that. Ted Codd’s just published his new “Twelve Commandments”! Codd’s the ultimate IS guru. In 1985 he redefined the world of transaction processing by writing his 12 laws of relational data base management. Now he’s done the same for online analytical processing. Twelve more commandments, every one a winner!
Harry: You’ve lost me, Kevin. What’s a relational data base or an analytical process?
Kevin: A relational data base is how we store transactions. One of our salesmen in
We all thought Codd had cracked it with his first commandments. If you got your relational data base right, you could answer any question, including, “Tell me the number of left-handed salesmen in
Harry: This didn’t happen first in 1988, by any chance?
Kevin: Spot on, Harry! How on Earth did you know?
Harry: That was the year you did a board presentation explaining why we had to spend another $15 million upgrading the data processing center.
Bob: Are you telling us that we spent all that money for no good purpose?
Kevin: Bob, hindsight is a wonderful thing. We learned a lot from the experience, and we used the spare CPUs for development, but the extra horsepower didn’t impact the analytical problem.
The new commandments will. They’re called the rules of Online Analytical Processing or OLAP. The OLAP rules are different from the relational data base ones. There’s one about multidimensionality, for example, that says you may want to look across products or countries or time periods or reporting lines without having to make that choice in advance. There’s another about transparency that says you should be able to access analytical data in the same way regardless of where it comes from or which application you’re using. There’s a third about accessibility that says the OLAP tool should be able to aggregate and convert the data as it goes along. There are others about efficiency and not wasting disk space. Overall, it’s a real shot in the arm for IS professionals; a chance to break into a whole new area of executive support activity.
Harry: Kevin, you probably know that the financial systems people who report to my controller don’t talk to the IS people in your group. Does this mean that at last they’ll have something in common?
Kevin: Absolutely. We never understood what you people did with your consolidation systems and your budget models. Now we’ve found some paths through the jungle, and we can start to help you.
Olaf: Kevin, whenever you talk about “helping” us, I usually reach for my capital expenditure veto, but on this occasion I’m interested. What will it do for my strategic planners?
Kevin: For a start, we’ll be able to support planning scenarios that really link into the operational side of the business.
Olaf: Let’s not get too radical. I can’t believe anyone would want to do that.
Bob: What should we do today that’s different from yesterday?
Kevin: We should start by making sure. all our finance and IS people know about these developments. You can get Codd’s original paper from his company, Codd and Date in
Harry: And save the next $15 million?
Kevin: Absolutely! This new thinking spells death to the mainframe as an analytical engine.
Bob: Analytical engine? Haven’t I heard that before? Charles Babbage, the Victorian engineer . . . The kids dragged us to the
Robert Bittlestone is founder and chief executive of Metapraxis, a