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Data Warehouse stores MIT information in a central place

Wouldn't it be great to go to a central source at MIT, enter your user name and password, and get a list with the phone numbers and e-mail addresses of all the employees in your department? Or find up-to-date administrative and financial data in a single location? Such a source would put an end to having to look for data in several different systems, then checking manually to verify that you have the latest, correct information.

That central source exists now: it's called the MIT Data Warehouse. It serves as a place where members of the MIT community can easily find well-defined and up-to-date administrative information.

Since January 1997, members of the Data Warehouse team have worked with representatives from six major labs and research centers to learn what financial information is important to them and what data they need to access quickly and often. The team then built prototype tables, gave demos to the users, explained how to access the data, constructed sample reports and put them on the web.

William Smith, senior fiscal officer for the Research Laboratory for Electronics (RLE), says: "The Data Warehouse unlocks a single point of access to a range of Institute administrative and financial data from campus-wide sources. The effort that RLE once spent simply gathering data can now be spent on more valuable tasks such as analysis, strategic planning and face-to-face time with our faculty, students and staff."


Recently SAP financial detail, master data, balance and Institute budgets and purchase-order detail were made available to the community. The Data Warehouse contains information in the new financial structure, using the new terminology--for example, the term "GL Accounts" replaces "Object Codes." The next significant additions to the Warehouse will be purchasing invoice detail, credit card purchases and departmental budgets.

In addition to the financial data configured in cooperation with the labs and research centers, the Data Warehouse also contains information about buildings and their space; MIT ID cards; employees and their addresses and appointments; basic student information; graduate awards; Kerberos IDs; keys; and parking permits and violations.

While most information is refreshed nightly, information that is fairly static (e.g., information about MIT buildings) is refreshed on an infrequent basis.


Since the Data Warehouse contains sensitive information, access control is essential. For example, while many departments can access the Employee table in the Data Warehouse, staff can only see information about employees in their own department. Another important security feature is that all interactions sent from the Data Warehouse to a user's desktop are encrypted over the network, ensuring that sensitive information, such as salary, remains secure.

Viewing Data Users can see their own data in different forms. They can use a query tool, such as BrioQuery, to find specific information. They can view report templates--built by the Data Warehouse team and other users--by going to the Data Warehouse Web site at and downloading the appropriate template(s). Examples are the Financial Balance Report and the Student Support Summary. Users can also extract their local information and export it to local spreadsheets, such as Excel or Lotus.


In addition to accessing their own information, users can join information from different systems. For example, a user can combine project information from both SAP and Coeus, the award management tool for sponsored research. Once the data is combined, a user can download it to his or her desktop machine or produce a report.

Users are also finding that having information in one location reduces the amount of information they need to maintain locally. Instead of keeping large amounts of data from central systems on their desktop computers, they are going directly to the Data Warehouse to find information from a number of central systems--such as SAP, [the Office of Sponsored Programs'] Coeus, the MIT Student Information System, and the Personnel database.


By exploring and experimenting with the Data Warehouse and Brio-Query, members of various departments are using information in ways they were not able to before. They can join data they store locally with data maintained centrally. For example, a department that maintains supervisory information locally can join this information with employee data and generate a report of employees by supervisor. They are also starting to customize their standard reports (e.g., adding a field) and sharing report templates with other departments.

Users are finding that the Data Warehouse is now a vital part of their everyday work. Maria Fernandez, financial analyst from the Sloan School, describes her work before and after the Data Warehouse: "In the past, producing one report was a very labor-intensive, time-consuming task because I had to search different databases. The Data Warehouse has made this process much easier. It's amazing that we have access to so much information right at our fingertips."

If you see yourself as a prospective Data Warehouse user and would like to request access, fill out the form at Those with questions about using the Data Warehouse may send e-mail to warehouse-help@ You can also contact any member of the Data Warehouse team: Stephen Turner,, x3-1921; Scott Thorne,, x3-2978; Mary Weisse,, x3-5398, or Elena Zhitnikov, elena@, x3-7672.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 30, 1998.

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