Data pays dividends

At either end of Europe, IBM Information Champions build financial foundations and data management communities

In this profile article, IBM Information Champions Banu Ekiz and Manuel Gomez Burriel discuss their work in the Turkish and Spanish financial industries, respectively. Both are also committed to sharing their knowledge with others through user groups and online communities, and they have interesting insights into the changing role of the DBA.

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Howard Baldwin, Writer, Freelance writer

Howard Baldwin is a Silicon Valley-based freelancer who writes about business and technology issues.



30 April 2010

At first glance, you might think that Istanbul and Madrid, two cities at Europe's eastern and western reaches, have nothing in common, but you'd be wrong. They're both large cities at 40 degrees latitude, both trace their roots back to Roman times, and both share Moorish influence. And they are both home to IBM Information Champions.

CHAMPIONS OF FINANCE
Image of Banu Ekiz and Manuel Gomez standing with money blocks

Photo of Banu Ekiz by Ali Kabas and photo of Manuel Gomez Burriel by Denis Doyle

Like their home cities, Information Champions Banu Ekiz of Istanbul and Manuel Gomez Burriel of Madrid share certain characteristics as well. Along with their extensive database experience, both are battle-tested veterans of their country's banking industry. Ekiz has worked for two Turkish banks since receiving her master's degree in 1996; Gomez has worked for Confederacion Espanola de Cajas de Ahorros (CECA) [Spanish Confederation of Savings Banks], a consortium of 45 Spanish banks, since 1986.

They also share a passion for database technology and its ability to provide the crucial foundation for an industry where, now more than ever, success is clearly linked to the world's economic viability. In these profiles, Ekiz and Gomez talk about their work with the latest database technologies, and how it continues to inspire them for the future.

Banu Ekiz, Akbank

The IBM Information Champion Program (formerly the IBM Data Champion Program) recognizes exceptional individuals who contribute to the advancement of information management at corporate and governmental entities around the world. In 2009, just 152 professionals were awarded this designation, based on their uncompensated contributions to user groups, community Web sites, conferences, and online forums. More information >

Banu Ekiz became interested in databases while an undergraduate at Bosporus University in Istanbul. During one summer job, she worked on computer security systems for a bank. "It was then I realized that database management systems had many capabilities. They were not limited to storing data, but their capabilities extended to any use of that data," she explains. She continued in a master's program at the same university, and for her master's thesis, she applied her DBMS knowledge to create a database and algorithms for studying and discerning healthy versus cancerous cells.

Her thesis showed the power of databases in healthcare, but in Turkey, the best computer-science students are enticed into two high-profile industries: finance and telecommunications. That's how Ekiz ended up in banking, working first for a leading bank in Turkey as a database administrator, then manager of its DBA group. In 2007, she moved to Akbank, one of Turkey's leading banks with headquarters in Istanbul and operations in the Netherlands, Germany, Dubai, and Malta.

Ekiz has put her database schooling to good use. She is the business intelligence coordination center manager at Akbank, leading a four-person group with extensive responsibilities that are crucial for the bank's efficiency. Her team (which includes outsourced development assistance) is responsible for the bank's enterprise information architecture, which encompasses database systems architecture, the hardware platform, the application development tools, the front-end reporting tools, metadata, enterprise data quality, and business intelligence (BI). Their current project: the implementation of a real-time operational reporting system, which will be the basis for a data warehouse running at near-real time.

For Ekiz, this is an exciting undertaking. She believes her current work is vital to the bank's success. "Most companies realize that they need a business intelligence strategy today," she says. "My group's work in leading the strategy definition and the architectural decisions about the business intelligence platform is the most interesting thing about my work."

For instance, she notes, the ability to access meaningful and clean data was just a dream a few years ago. However, with new technological changes, that dream can become a reality, she says. "Putting all the policies and procedures together while working with the business and accommodating its needs, however, is a big challenge." The bank's BI efforts require a well-defined strategy. "Without putting standards and rules in place, it's a real burden to keep up with the business's needs for a BI system. We realized that we had to define both the strategy and the architecture for our business intelligence solutions."

Crafting this strategy requires a high level of collaboration and communication, Ekiz believes. "We need to understand the business needs correctly. But the business has to trust IT about the technical decisions. That trust, along with a strong partnership, comes out of IT responding to the business's requests in a swift manner."

Her group is managing everything from data governance to performance. "Data governance is a new focus for us with the implementation of the real-time data warehouse. It's helping us provide good quality data," Ekiz says, noting that for high-level business intelligence efforts to be successful, they require a strong architectural foundation. At Akbank, the real-time data warehouse will use an IBM Cognos front end, and DB2 will serve as the source database. "We will be using replication techniques to move data from DB2 to our operational data store. For the replication, we will be taking advantage of the advanced monitoring features of DB2 so that the performance of our source systems will not be affected," she explains.

This kind of tuning is easier with modern systems, says Ekiz. "I started my career with DB2 version 2, and with every version, the robustness, availability, and business continuity functions have been far ahead compared to the other database systems." In her early days with databases, she remembers, "you had to develop your own monitoring and alert mechanisms" as well as tinker with the system to make it work to your specifications.

But just as databases have advanced, Ekiz believes that database administrators must evolve their skills as well. "DBAs should have great communication skills and the ability to work closely with their application development groups," she says. "They should also have teaching skills, so that they can explain new technological changes to others in their company." Ultimately, she believes that good DBAs should be able to combine their knowledge of databases with their knowledge of the needs and strategies of the business, and help the company move forward using those insights.

That's why she became involved with IBM database user groups, starting in 2003 as a speaker at the International DB2 Users Group (IDUG) Europe conferences. The following year, she joined the IDUG Conference Planning Committee. "I first met Banu in 2007 in Brussels for an IDUG conference planning meeting," says Surekha Parekh, worldwide DB2 for z/OS market manager at IBM. "My first impression was that she was easy to talk to and fun."

By 2008, Ekiz was chairing the IDUG Europe conference. "What I have learned in IDUG has helped me throughout my career," says Ekiz. "Listening to so many DB2 professionals come and explain their experiences at IDUG helped me realize how many things you can do with DB2."

Now, she is delighted to be part of the IBM Information Champion Program, because "you get first-hand information about IBM products and strategies before other people, and this gives you a head start to make plans for new technologies."


Manuel Gomez Burriel, CECA

Manuel Gomez Burriel's database career started in the 1980s as an application programmer on batch-oriented mainframe applications. "It was very common for application programmers to want to move into system programming, and I took advantage of a chance I had to move into a database administration group," Gomez says. The database involved? IBM IMS version 1.3.

He's still working on IMS databases, and proudly so. Gomez is a DBA manager, supervising a staff of eight in the IT department of Madrid-based CECA, which supports 45 Spanish savings banks. Founded in 1928, the company's services include providing management statistics and analysis, regulation and financial analysis, fiscal advisory services, legal advice, and other general advisory services. Most important for Gomez, it offers technology services and support for its members.

An entity that well established has a reputation to maintain, especially in the financial services industry. Indeed, Gomez takes the reliability and performance of his databases very seriously; the challenge of ensuring both of those things is what he enjoys most about his job, almost as if the database were a mountain to be conquered (he also loves trekking).

"Our customers demand that they have access to their data on a 24/7 basis, and we focus on providing that service level because that's how we're judged in our job," Gomez says. For the past five years, he says proudly, his group has been striving to provide the highest level of uptime possible. "We are measuring annual downtime in hours, not days. Just this morning, we had a meeting to discuss a shutdown for maintenance, which we will take care of in less than two hours, between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m."

Gomez shrugs off having to occasionally work such unusual hours; it's part of the job. "Being a DBA, especially in banking, requires a lot of work and dedication, and frequently nighttime hours. The requests we get from business are getting more demanding. Not everyone wants to take this kind of job, but if they do, I can promise them a work life that will never be boring." Even after more than 20 years, he still finds his work "exciting and attractive."

Part of that excitement comes from watching databases evolve within the corporation. "When I started working as a DBA, the database was only for storing the information in a way that it would be available and compatible to everybody," he explains. "But now, while this definition still applies in those legacy applications, databases are also used for business intelligence, for data warehouses, and as the basis for new applications. They have become more important for more people everywhere and all the time; they're utilized as if they were office tools."

Gomez also believes that a key part of his job is to share both his excitement about his work and his database know-how. He is highly active in several database user groups, including IDUG and the Spanish regional user groups for IMS and DB2 that are part of Guide Share Europe. "Like Banu, Manuel is passionate, committed, and always very supportive," says IBM's Parekh. "Last year, Manuel set up the first Spanish DB2 Regional User Group. This was extremely successful, as we had over 100 attendees—a major achievement for a RUG meeting."

"Since the beginning of my life in IT, I have always believed in the concept of community as an easy and friendly way to share knowledge and experience," says Gomez, noting that the Web makes that easier than ever before. "We maintain forums on our Web site for topics, and to post opinions and messages. It helps to keep our community connected."

Certainly the IBM Information Champion Program offers that capacity as well, and Gomez sees it as a way to both share information and learn new skills. "It's really important for me to be part of this select and privileged group. I like having direct access to other colleagues, and I like sharing documents and recommendations. I'm very grateful to the program because of the opportunities it's offered me."

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