The Providence of Provenance

It is more than 20 years since the issue of provenance in databases was first raised. Since that time, under various names, it has been modelled, theorised about, standardised and has become part of mainstream database research. Moreover, the topic has now infected nearly every branch of computer science: providence is a problem for everyone. But what exactly is the problem? And has the copious research had any real effect on how we use databases or, more generally, how we use computers.
I shall attempt to summarise the research on provenance and what practical impact it has had. Although much of the research has yet to come to market, there is an increasing interest in the topic from industry; moreover it has had a surprising impact in tangential areas such as data integration and data citation. I shall argue that we are still lacking basic tools to deal with provenance and that we need a “culture shift” if ever we are to make full use of the technology that has already been developed.

Keynote talk presented at the 29th British National Conference on Databases.

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Peter Buneman