Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Buy groceries, produce XML, feed DB2, gain weight insight

By now some of you might have figured I was on vacation. It was very relaxing with almost no emails and no IBM - and no blog. Once during the vacation I was reminded by my kids about what I do. When we shopped for some groceries, the kids had to point out (loudly and in public of course) that the cash register/POS terminal was from IBM.

And then I had to briefly think about what we were doing. By buying the groceries we would create a nice transaction - actually several because we paid with electronic cash. Later, the different sales slips would be transferred in XML format to the company's headquarter and eventually fed into the central enterprise warehouse. In many companies the POS transactions are already shipped as XML because of its flexibility and simple way of looking into transmission issues. However, once received most companies today shred (or "decompose") the XML files before the data even reaches a database. A lot of information could be lost during that phase, sometimes even data integrity or security is at risk. These are some of the reasons why more and more companies are looking into directly feeding the XML files with the POS slips into the database, e.g., the enterprise warehouse, operational data stores, or central staging areas for other backbone systems.

DB2 with its pureXML functionality can be of great help because it allows to store the XML data in its native format, keeping all the information. Using SQL/XML and XQuery it is possible to look into the data and analyze it. Functions such as XMLTABLE allow to present XML data in relational table structures to support BI tools that are not (yet) XML-enabled.

It's good to know that the upcoming DB2 9.7 (see the early acces program and the announcement) improves the functionality for gaining "XML Insight" in data warehouses even further (XML data in range partitioning, multi-dimensional clustering, database partitioning). Really all information that is contained in the POS data can be used, the flexibility that XML offers can be carried along the entire chain, IT processes can be simplified and costs saved, and the goods and prices in the stores adapted to the market needs.

And the latter is what we - as shoppers - are looking for. But I did not tell all of the above to my kids when we left the supermarket as it would have certainly lowered their level of happiness with the new ice cream...