Building the Data Warehouse

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External contextual information is information outside the corporation that nevertheless plays an important role in understanding information over time. Some examples of external contextual information include the following:

■■ Economic forecasts:

■■ Inflation ■■ Financial trends ■■ Taxation ■■ Economic growth

■    Political information

■■ Competitive information

■    Technological advancements

■    Consumer demographic movements

External contextual information says nothing directly about a company but says everything about the universe in which the company must work and compete. External contextual information is interesting both in terms of its immediate manifestation and its changes over time. As with complex contextual information, there is very little organized attempt to capture and measure this information. It is so large and so obvious that it is taken for granted, and it is quickly forgotten and difficult to reconstruct when needed.

Capturing and Managing Contextual Information

Complex and external contextual types of information are hard to capture and quantify because they are so unstructured. Compared to simple contextual information, external and complex contextual types of information are very amorphous. Another mitigating factor is that contextual information changes quickly. What is relevant one minute is passe the next. It is this constant flux and the amorphous state of external and complex contextual information that makes these types of information so hard to systematize.

Looking at the Past

One can argue that the information systems profession has had contextual information in the past. Dictionaries, repositories, directories, and libraries are all attempts at the management of simple contextual information. For all the good intentions, there have been some notable limitations in these attempts that have greatly short-circuited their effectiveness. Some of these shortcomings are as follows:

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