Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
Keeping track of information and knowing where it is at all times is a challenge for any organization. The need to be able to access and find information is extremely important. Above being able to find the information it needs to be useful and simplified for the users. Being able to turn data into information and storing the data in an accessible place is a huge need to organizations of any magnitude. This paper examines how databases turn data into useful information, what data warehouses do with this information, and how it is retrieved from data marts.
A database is a collection of data organized for simple search and retrieval. It can be something as simple as a class attendance list, or as complex as an online SQL database. In either instance, organizing information for quick access is the definite purpose.
Consisting of bytes (characters), rows (records), and columns (fields), databases are usually organized into tables (Kroenke, 2010). Students of business will have experience in creating databases from previous courses taken at NAIT. A form letter in Microsoft Word is a database, taking information such as name, address, job title, and giving it a specific record number. When the fields of data are input into the document, information is retrieved from the database and assigned to those fields. This creates the database.
A data warehouse uses the information from operational databases, other internal data, and external data to extract, clean, and prepare it to be stored in a data warehouse for the purpose of analyzing and decision making (Kroenke, 2010). This information becomes normalized and is given structure. This means that information going into the data warehouse is translated into different forms as needed so it becomes useful to the end user. As an example, a store product code from a sales database could be transformed into a UPC to be compared against information from an external database. A recent working example of a data warehouse can be found in IBM’s Watson Project. A supercomputer that stores a seemingly unlimited amount of data, Watson took on the two most successful Jeopardy contestants in history and won. For Watson, however, the decision making and interpretation was solely up to the computer. The famous line “What is leg?” is a perfect example of how the human element is still important in mining information. This is why a data warehouse is a staffed site where data is stored and catalogued by technical staff, and indexed and analyzed by business analysts to ensure content is relevant and operational.
A data mart can be