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What is bitemporal and why should the enterprise care?

Matt Allen, Senior Product Marketing Manager, MarkLogic | March 31, 2017
Bitemporal databases reveal what you knew and when you knew it.

data integration

Today, databases are the primary system of record, and organizations are required to keep an accurate picture of all the facts, as they occur. Unfortunately, traditional databases are only temporal and cannot provide a truly accurate picture of your business at different points-in-time.

What organizations need today, particularly in regulated industries, is support for bitemporal data.  With a bitemporal database, you can store and query data along two timelines with timestamps for both valid times—when a fact occurred in the real world (“what you knew”), and also system time—when that fact was recorded to the database (“when you knew it”). 

Today, more and more organizations need time-based insight—which also helps organizations with security and data governance because they are keeping a better handle on historical data. Only with a bitemporal database can organizations maintain a complete and accurate picture of the past to understand exactly who knew what and did what, when.

A bitemporal database is much more powerful than a temporal database because it allows you to query across system and valid time axes. You can go back in time and explore data, manage historical data across systems, ensure data integrity, and do complex bitemporal analysis with ease. For example, temporal database can answer, “Where did John Thomas live on August 20th?” However, a bitemporal database can answer, “Where did John Thomas live on August 20th as we knew it on September 1st?”

Bitemporal works by ingesting bitemporal documents that are managed as a series of documents with element range indexes for valid and system time axes. Documents are stored in any number of protected collections that are controlled by security permissions. The initial document inserted into the database is kept and never changes, allowing you to track the provenance of information with full governance and immutability.

Here are some questions to help you determine if you should investigate bitemporal database technology:

* Can you afford to lose historical data about your business?  In our age of hefty regulatory fines and time-consuming, costly litigation, a database must hold up as the main system of record. Unfortunately, traditional databases do not keep a complete history of the past—they are essentially losing data. Financial companies have been on the leading edge of the use of bitemporal capabilities, and they serve as models for the benefits of bitemporal data management. For example, bitemporal helps large financial companies better manage their data so that they can respond to new regulation and audits, and better manage their risk.

Are there cases when historical data needs to be updated? Any company that must update historical data would benefit from bitemporal support. For example, in the financial trading business, trades can be amended after they are made. If there is no time-based record of these changes, future analysis of trading positions could be compromised—and organizations could face major fines by regulators. With a unitemporal database, updates overwrite historical data, which can introduce enormous risk to both individual traders and entire companies. Bitemporal design provides an accurate picture of the entire lifecycle of a trade review, including when changes to counter-party names, transaction IDs or price corrections occurred.


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