A Word on Meal Prep and Data Warehousing
If you are a fan of social media networking, as I am, there is no doubt that you have at least a handful of individuals in your network who like to share pictures of their healthy “meal prep” every week. Meal prepping is the process of preparing one’s meals for the coming week and organizing them in such a way that makes it easy to stick to a regimented meal plan. This process, while I’ve never done it, resonates with me, as my wife and I are now empty nesters and find it difficult to decide what we are going to eat during any given meal. I often find myself driving around the corner to our local Whataburger restaurant for a quick meal. That can’t be healthy.
Why is meal prepping important and successful if implemented consistently? I think the answer is simple, if not easily executable. If we think about why we don’t eat healthy in the first place, it’s really a matter of timing. When we are hungry, the last thing we want to do is prepare a meal, so we head for the local fast food joint. It’s often true that we don’t have all of the ingredients in one place to create a complete meal, so rather than munch on a single celery stick, we go buy a quarter pound of fried potato sticks. Meal prepping allows us to pre-organize our meal plan, prepare our portions, and if we are particularly industrious, we will package our meals in containers that are easy to “grab and go.” I have found that those who are able to consistently follow a healthy diet are good at meal prepping.
But, what does meal prepping have to do with data? Perhaps more than you think. Read on.
Data Warehousing is a way of preparing data for use in the future…much like meal prepping is for a healthy diet. Data warehousing, by definition, means to prepare and store data specifically for use in decision-making. I make this point because the term is often misused in today’s business environment. People often think that if they are storing data, then they have a data warehouse. This is not true. Stored data constitutes a data warehouse only if is stored in a way that is accessible to business users for decision making. To be clear, simply transferring data from a transactional system to secure, permanent storage is data archiving, not data warehousing. A data archive is equivalent to a deep freezer in food handling nomenclature.
When food goes into our freezer at home, it is unlikely to see the light of day ever again. We feel better because we are properly caring for it, but it will be of little use to us in the future. I think the same is true for data archiving, in many cases. We have this data, and we feel like we should do something with it, so we dump it into an archive and lock it up. Essentially, frozen food never gets eaten because when we’re ready to eat it, we realize we still have to thaw it out, which takes time. So, we go around the corner to the fast food joint. In business, we often ignore our most interesting and informative data, because of the time and resources it takes to access it. Instead, we throw together a quick report with high-level metrics and call it a day.
Think of a data warehouse as you would a buffet line. We seldom eat everything in the buffet line on the same visit, but the buffet line allows us the opportunity to try something different when the mood strikes us, with very little effort. A properly architected data warehouse allows business users to dig deeper into relevant data, conveniently, when the opportunity arises. For example, if you notice a rise in delinquency in your auto loan portfolio, you could add information to your data, such as term or vehicle type, to determine if the delinquency was related to something specific. You wouldn’t necessarily want this information all of the time, but it can be very helpful if you need it.
Now that you are nearly ready for lunch, let me break this down for you…
Transactional data that is in your operational system is like food on the stove. It’s hot and ready, but your choices are limited. Food in the freezer is frozen and safe, like data in most archive databases. Unfortunately, it’s so safe that even people who need to see it cannot easily access it. Then there is the buffet, where multiple options are made available and kept “warm,” like data in a data warehouse that is prepared, organized and ready to be called upon for decision making. If you are a business user and cannot access data for decision making, you don’t have a data warehouse.
If your credit union wants to take full advantage of the benefits of data warehousing, CU Direct’s Advisory Services can assist you with your efforts.