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Conquering the Logical-Physical Divide – August 2011
Secrets to Success

by Larry Burns
Published: August 1, 2011
Larry Burns has often said that things become obsolete not because of what they are, but because of how they are defined. In this article, he explains that flexibility and the willingness to adapt is crucial to business success.

First, a news update: My book, Building The Agile Database, is finally out and available through Technics Publications and Amazon.  Also, for those of you attending the TDWI Agile BI conference in San Diego this month, I will be conducting a half-day workshop on Sunday the 7th, and a book signing at noon on Wednesday the 10th.  I hope to meet many of you there!

A lot of people ask me what the book is about, and truthfully, that’s a difficult question. 

The book is about how to design and build high-quality databases, of course, because that’s my specialty.  It’s also about effective approaches to Agile Development, because I’ve spent most of the past five years working on Agile projects, learning database development in an Agile context.1 The book explains why both Agile Development and data management are important, describes the fundamental principles of each, and explains how to do Agile Development in a way that doesn’t sacrifice good data management practices, and doesn’t result in stovepiped, application-specific databases. 

But in a larger sense, the book is about much more than this.  The first chapter explains what businesses need to survive – and thrive – in the new global Information Economy, and gives several examples of how modern-day businesses are harnessing the power of timely, high-quality, reusable, business-relevant data to drive innovation, expansion, and growth.  Subsequent chapters describe a stakeholder, or role-based, approach to business collaboration that enables business and IT groups across the organization to work together to achieve common goals and break down functional barriers.  Instead of one group saying, “You must do this!” and another group saying, “You can’t do that!” the stakeholder approach helps everyone to realize that each group needs to do certain things in order to succeed, and that helping others succeed is the surest route to success for ourselves, and for our companies.

Another chapter describes the importance of maintaining an Agile Attitude, in which people make the transition from being “chickens” (people who perform occasional tasks on a project when requested to do so) to being “pigs” (people who are truly committed to the success of an endeavor, and are willing to go to any length to achieve it).  A chicken contributes her eggs to a meal; the pig gives her all.  The importance of growing outside our specific areas of expertise and becoming more generalist in our approach and abilities is also explained.

Finally, the book describes how the work of both application development and data management is changing in both business and technology, and the ways in which IT workers (particularly those of us in data management) will have to change and adapt to stay relevant to the current needs of the business.

In short, this book is about success and how to achieve it.  For those of us in the data management profession in particular, it’s important to understand that we are not simply in the business of designing and building relational databases.  We are in the business of designing, building, and maintaining information systems that manage data (in multiple forms and at different times and locations) in ways that maximize the creation of knowledge and the effectiveness of decision-making across the enterprise.  We may live to see, as one Gartner Group study has put it, “The Death of the Database.”2 But our businesses will never outgrow a need for the high-quality data and information infrastructure that enables effective decision making and innovation.

As I’ve often said, things become obsolete not because of what they are, but because of how they are defined.  If the railroads had thought of themselves as transportation providers, rather than train operators, we might all be flying today on Union Pacific Airlines!  We must cease to be constrained by old ways of thinking and doing, and allow ourselves – and our professions – to grow into what our businesses need now.  This will entail a shift of attitude, and a more profound understanding of business needs and economic priorities than many of us currently have.  It will also require the development of new toolsets and methodologies that will enable us to make the transition from being database developers to being what Dan Sutherland has called “Information Architects.”3

It is my profound hope that this book will inspire and help data professionals make this transition, and ensure the success, relevance and value of data management for decades to come.

I wish you all success on your journey.

NOTE: I’d like to make this a dialogue, so please feel free to email questions, comments and concerns to me. Thanks for reading!

References:

  1. Burns, Larry. “Conquering the Logical-Physical Divide – May 2011”, TDAN, (http://www.tdan.com/view-featured-columns/15176).

  2. Beyer, Mark. “The Death of the Database”, originally presented at the Gartner Symposium/Itxpo 2006 in San Francisco, May 14-18 2006. Publication number SPG8_837, 5/06, AE.

  3. Sutherland, Dan. “DBAs Reinvented”, published September 1, 2009 on TDAN, (http://www.tdan.com/view-special-features/11305)

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Recent articles by Larry Burns

Larry Burns - Larry Burns has worked in IT for more than 25 years as a database administrator, application developer, consultant and teacher. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from the University of Washington and a Masters degree in Software Engineering from Seattle University.  He currently works for a Fortune 500 company as a database consultant on numerous application development projects, and teaches a series of data management classes for application developers.  He was a contribut0r to DAMA International’s Data Management Body of Knowledge (DAMA-DMBOK), and is a former instructor and advisor in the certificate program for Data Resource Management at the University of Washington in Seattle.  You can contact him at Larry_Burns@comcast.net.