Thought Leader Interview

Claudia Imhoff: Enterprise Architectures for BI and Data-driven Decision Support

President and Founder
of Intelligent Solutions

Dan Power, Editor of, conducted an email interview with Claudia Imhoff in December 2006.

Q1: How did you get interested in decision support, data management and computerized information systems?

Imhoff's Response: When I first started as a consultant in the late 1980's, decision support systems (DSS) were just beginning to be implemented. The company I worked for was also the employer of Bill Inmon, one of the early promoters and still one of the visionaries in BI. I was fortunate to attend a course given by Bill on this very subject and fell in love with the concept, the architecture, and the challenges associated with such a novel idea.

Q2: How do you define the term decision support system? What is the overlap between BI, DW and DSS?

Imhoff's Response: DSS is an older term for the all-encompassing BI environments we see today. BI is the ultimate end result of analytical processes. The data warehouse is one of the components (along with data marts, operational data stores, and the processes to get data into the environment and out into the hands of the business community) used in the creation of this environment.

Q3: How is DSS related to the Corporate Information Factory?

Imhoff's Response: Any large enterprise-wide initiative such as DSS or BI requires significant effort and coordination. This coordination means that all the above-mentioned components must work synergistically and in a consistent manner. To accomplish this, you must have an architecture to be used as a roadmap. The Corporate Information factory is the most implemented, and best understood of the BI architectures available today.

Q4: What are the keys to successful management-oriented information systems project like data-driven DSS, BI and business performance monitoring systems?

Imhoff's Response: There are many "success factors" in developing an enterprise architecture. To name just a few, business and IT sponsorship, appropriate funding for the long haul, applicable technology for both IT productivity and business utilization, alignment of BI applications with business objectives, measurable ROI, and trained resources.

Q5: How can managers get more "usable" data for decision support?

Imhoff's Response: Define usable! In my experience, BI implementers would do well to examine the managers' compensation plan. Inevitably, there is a BI component that will help them meet their bonus objectives -- for example, if a manager's bonus is based on improving customer retention, then BI can certainly help by supplying the manager with profiles of customers who are likely to churn, determining the best time to contact the customer, and the best set of product offerings tailored to that particular customer's purchasing behavior.

Q6: What is data stewardship? Is it realistic that one person could serve this role?

Imhoff's Response: There are many articles that define data stewardship but basically it is someone who takes responsibility for the definition, quality, and maintenance of certain data entities and their attributes. Generally there is a data steward per data subject (e.g., customer, product, order, etc.) or per functional area (e.g., marketing, sales, finance, etc.).

Q7: What if any, new, non-financial data do organizations need to begin gathering for decision support?

Imhoff's Response: Much of the master data projects have a direct impact on BI. These entities are the standard sets of reference data found in any organization and include customer, product, location, etc., master files. In addition to reference data, many corporations are also starting to incorporate unstructured data into their BI environments. This data includes emails, contract T&C, notes, etc.

Q8: What do you see as major trends in computerized decision support? Where are we headed?

Imhoff's Response: There are several major trends occurring in BI today. These include:

  1. Operational BI -- Speeding up the analytics and embedding them in operational processes
  2. Master data management - Creating repositories of reference data for use by both BI and transaction processing
  3. BI Software as a service -- A new form of on-demand outsourcing
  4. Less expensive data warehouse appliances - Disrupting the status quo
  5. Open source BI -- Changing the whole dynamics of the pricing models in place today
  6. Implementation of Centers of Excellence - Coordinating data integration and management -- not just for BI -- but for the entire enterprise

About Claudia Imhoff

Claudia Imhoff, Ph.D., is the president and founder of Intelligent Solutions (, a leading consultancy on CRM and business intelligence technologies and strategies founded in 1992. She is a popular speaker and internationally recognized expert and serves as an advisor to many corporations, universities and leading technology companies. She has coauthored five books and more than 50 articles on these topics. Currently, she has a popular blog, expert channel, newsletter, and First Person interviews with industry luminaries on the Business Intelligence Network website.


Power, D., "Claudia Imhoff Interview: Enterprise Architectures for BI and Data-driven Decision Support", DSSResources.COM, 02/28/2007.