Reflections of Decision Support Pioneers

William H. Inmon

Bill Inmon responded by email to six questions from Dan Power, editor, about his past involvement with computerized decision support systems and his current perspective on the issues that need to be addressed.

Q1: How did you get interested in computerized decision support?

Inmon's Response: In the early days of relational technology, the claims for relational technology were wild and entirely out of the bounds of reality. I was a writer for ComputerWorld then, and I wrote several articles expressing healthy skepticism over the value of relational technology.

The result was a chorus of people who thought I was crazy. No one was supposed to be questioning the value of relational technology at that time. The outcry was actually pretty amazing.

So rather than write about the shortcomings of relational technology, I forced myself to ask the question (to myself) – what are the real problems of information processing, if relational technology is not the answer. I postulated that the real needs for decision support were –

  • a need for integrated data
  • a need for historical data
  • a need for granular data, where a foundation for decisions existed in a single place and where that foundation could be reshaped for many different needs.

It was this analysis that led to data warehousing. I was working with an insurance company, a cellular telephone company, and an oil company at the time, as a consultant. What really amazed me was that despite the fact that their businesses were very different, their architectural needs for information were identical.

Q2: What do you consider your major contribution to helping support decision makers using computers? Why?

Inmon's Response: My major contribution has been the development of the concept of the data warehouse. In addition, I have been instrumental in the development of large architectures that are related to the data warehouse concept. I formulated the corporate information factory and DW 2.0 as well.

Q3: What were your motivations for working in this area?

Inmon's Response: I was just an old Cobol programmer trying to work out the details of a rational design. I got lost somewhere along the way.

Q4: Who were your important collaborators and what was their contribution?

Inmon's Response: Some of the collaborators were Claudia Imhoff, John Ladley, Bob Terdeman, Ryan Sousa. Later contributors were Derek Strauss, Genia Neushloss, Bonnie O’Neil, Lowell Fryman and others. For the most part the collaborators are people who were good for testing the soundness and the practicality of the architectural principles.

Q5: What are your major conclusions from your experiences with computerized decision support?

Inmon's Response: Computerized DSS is in its infancy. There are so many possibilities that our grandchildren will look back on us and wonder about how naïve and unsophisticated we were.

Q6: What are the issues associated with decision support that we still need to address?

Inmon's Response: This is a long list. But some of the items include:

  • the politics of DSS
  • unstructured data and DSS
  • metadata and DSS
  • business metadata
  • non numerical visualization

... just to name a few.

About Bill Inmon

Bill Inmon, world-renowned expert, speaker and author on data warehousing, is widely recognized as the "father of data warehousing." He is creator of the Corporate Information Factory and more recently, creator of the Government Information Factory. He has over 35 years of experience in database technology management and data warehouse design, and he is known globally for his seminars on developing data warehouses. He has been a keynote speaker for many major computing association and many industry conferences, seminars, and tradeshows.

As an author, Bill has written more than 650 articles on a variety of topics about building, using, and maintaining the data warehouse and the Corporate Information Factory. His works have been published in major computing journals including Data Management Review and The Business Intelligence Network where he continues to be a featured columnist. He has written 46 books, many of which have been translated into nine languages; one has sold over one-half million copies.

As entrepreneur, Bill founded and took public Prism Solutions in 1991. In 1995, Bill went on to found Pine Cone Systems, later named Ambeo. In 1999, Bill created this Web site to educate professionals and decision makers about data warehousing and the Corporate Information Factory. This popular and easy-to-use Web resource,, contains much of Mr. Inmon's written work and related material, including methodologies, technical white papers, articles, and data models. In 2003, Bill co-founded Inmon Data Systems, Inc. and created the Government Information Factory, an architectural blueprint for building government information systems. This "go-to" portal for government IT systems can be found at

Bill consults with a large number of Fortune 1000 clients, offering data warehouse design and database management services. He has worked for American Management Systems, Inc. and Coopers & Lybrand. Bill received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics from Yale University, and his Master of Science degree in Computer Science from New Mexico State University. He makes his home in Colorado.


William H. Inmon Reflections, DSSResources.COM, 06/07/2007.

Bill Inmon's responses were received May 19, 2007.