Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wilde Abstraction

Eric Kavanagh makes some very astute points in an article on TDWI regarding abstraction. As he rightly points out, a computer system that models the real world will have to deal with business hierarchies such as general ledgers, asset hierarchies etc that are complex in several ways. To start with there are multiple valid views. Different business people have a different perspective on "Product" for example: a marketer will be interested in the brand, price and packaging, but from the point of view of someone in distribution the physical dimensions of the product are important, in what size container it comes in, how it should be stacked etc. Moreover, as Eric points out, many hierarchies are "ragged" in nature, something that not all systems are good at dealing with.

The key point he makes, in my view, is that business people should be presented with a level of abstraction that can be put in their own terms. In other words the business model should drive the computer system, not the other way around. Moreover, as the article notes, if you maintain this abstraction layer properly then historical comparison becomes possible e.g. comparing values over time as the hierarchies change. Indeed the ability to reconstruct past hierarchies is something that I believe is increasingly important in these days of greater regulatory compliance, yet it is often neglected in many systems, both packages and custom-built. The key points he makes on the value of an abstraction layer:

- the abstraction layer shields the application from business change
- business-model driven, with the ability to have multiple views on the same underlying data
- time variance built in
- the layer can be a platform for master data management

neatly sum up the key advantages of the Kalido technology, and indeed sums up why I set up Kalido in the first place, since I felt that existing packages and approaches failed in these key areas. It is encouraging to me that these points are starting to gain wider acceptance as genuine issues that the industry needs to better address if it is to give its customers what they really need. To quote Oscar Wilde "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about." I hope these key issues, which most designers of computer systems seem not to grasp, get talked about a lot more.

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