I am sure that the title of this article is raising the small hairs on the backs of the necks of experienced data warehousing professionals; we all know that data warehousing initiatives need to be
driven by business needs, and need to have sponsorship and ownership and strong participation from the business side of the organization.
However, there is a fact out there that is a reality. Many organizations have embarked upon data warehousing initiatives that were born in the IT (Information Technology) side of the company. And
today, more are continuing to start out this way. Projects that don’t have all the right users committed, and that don’t necessarily have all the right user requirements identified. Many of these
projects end up becoming statistics among the DW efforts that we count as failures. And we all know why; the idea of “if you build it, they will come” is flawed. The real users of decision
support are business people, and if they don’t have a motivation to use it, and if they don’t understand it and feel ownership for it (and if they don’t conceive the payback for doing it) it is
just not going to work.
However, many of these initiatives (born in the minds of the IT department) are good ideas. The motivation is sound. The business case is there, and success stories in the industry bear it out. If
you are a bank, you need to use DW technology to understand customer profiles. If you are a product/distribution based company, you also want to understand your customers. If you do sales and
marketing, you want to understand market trends and opportunities, and be able to react to them quickly. And there are many more examples, by industry and by business function. It all seems so
obvious, right? And yet many IT leaders find themselves struggling to sell the concept to their business counterparts.
So how does a DW effort born in IT become a successful one? Shouldn’t we “Just Say No” if the project is starting out IT driven? But wait a minute. Is an opportunity being missed by that
straightforward answer? Let’s explore that scenario. What are the choices for a leadership person in Information Systems who knows that the organization, or division, or some other business unit
needs to catch up with the competition and start leveraging this technology (and wants to do it the right way)? Perhaps faced with a user community that is resistant to change and does not clearly
see the value. Perhaps there are other IT projects under way that create a scenario where a DW initiative could be a value-added deliverable and could take advantage of momentum and synergy among
work teams. It may be good timing. Don’t give up!
Here are some things to consider:
- First, try starting at the top of the business user ladder. Of course there are exceptions, but it is often difficult to convince overworked, lower level business users (who are by necessity
very focused on their small piece of the process) of the value of more strategic initiatives. And motivation and drive from the business side needs to spring from the power base. That means the
people who are making decisions and controlling budgets.
- It is surprising how little a 20 year IT veteran in an organization sometimes knows about real business operations, in the trenches. If this is the case, sharpen your knowledge of the business
side, from a business perspective, among your key IT leaders. What are the real key performance indicators that the business leadership looks at? What business events/issues can be identified as a
“rallying cause” to spark business leadership in the company? Plan a strategy to build a business case, and have it ready to bring out when the timing is right. Like right after a negative event
occurs that could have been avoided or handled much better if decision support was available. Consider a campaign to educate your business users on DW technology and success stories. Look for
examples within your industry to point to. To be effective, make sure they are solid examples that will strike a chord.
- Consider bringing in a consulting company that is experienced in DW within your industry, and get them to help you understand your options and how to build a business case. If you pick a good
firm, typically this is a brief study that can be conducted with minimal cost. And it will give you an impartial, expert opinion to add to your campaign for DW.
- What incremental steps can be taken? The journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. Think about the foundation needed for DW. Data Standardization, Data Quality, Enterprise level Data
Modeling, Meta Data, etc. What are the possibilities to begin paving the way by addressing some of these issues, in ways that will provide multiple benefits to your organization?
Some things you should not do:
- Do not assume that a “beauty pageant” of DW tool vendor demonstrations will “wow” your business users. It can be confusing and set wrong expectations; and if demos are not properly planned
and executed, they can actually turn off your business people to the technology altogether. Tool demonstrations are valuable, but only at the right time, and when they have been meticulously
planned and rehearsed as part of your strategy.
- Do not assume that if you kick the project off with IT budget money, that eventually the business side will see value and open their own purse strings. Think about this very carefully before
you do it. It must be carefully planned and elements for success need to be built in. And even if this strategy works, building a DW without real, solid business requirements up front, and
commitment from key users can mean lots of rework later when you finally understand what the users need at a detail level.
This is just a brief scratch on the surface of some things to consider when it looks like your DW effort can only start out as IT driven. The important thing is to not lose sight of the fact that
your idea to do decision support is probably a very good one for your company. Avoid the trap of ignoring the issue and just doing it anyway without business support; or giving up in frustration.
In many organizations, the effort of trying to understand and justify data warehousing has spurred a new understanding between more traditional IT departments and business users. It can be a great