The terms data and information are often used interchangeably. However, in the data warehousing world they are quite different from each other. Remembering the difference is as simple as the difference between Charlie and Raymond Babbitt. You may remember these two characters from the movie Rainman. Charlie is the younger brother of austitic savant Raymond.

Raymond's condition, among other things, causes him to focus on minute details that most people would miss at the expense of understanding the information the data conveys. Charlie, on the other hand, is forced to take the data he's given by Raymond and transform it into a more useful presentation. For instance, Raymond knew it was "10 minutes till Wapner" or that there were "246 toothpicks" on the ground. Charlie didn't need the specific data points as much as he needed the processed information of "We'll make it in time" or "All the toothpicks are out of the box".

By the same token, many consumers of data warehouse services really don't care about the specific data we have available. For example, the person responsible for ordering supplies for a regional hub probably doesn't need to know that one of the stores in the region sold 100 hammers in April. He does care that demand for hammers in his whole region increases dramatically during the spring and then tapers off toward the end of the summer. The data is less meaningful than the information it provides.

While we need to be able to understand the data, it's important not to lose sight of the resulting information and how it should be presented. As data warehouse implementrers we tend to be obsessed with the data like Raymond but we need to keep the usefulness of perspective of Charlie in mind. And then we can all drive off in a Buick Roadmaster.