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Are You Ready for Data Warehousing? Part 1

  • September 17 1999, 1:00am EDT

One of the most difficult parts of the data warehousing process is deciding where to begin. Determining how this technology will provide the biggest payback with the least pain to the organization is the most challenging activity of the entire data warehousing process. To be successful, you must first determine what strengths and weaknesses exist within your business from an organizational and business process maturity perspective before recommending a course of action. The best way to develop this understanding is to undertake a quick business assessment which will help you determine where your best efforts should be directed. The results of such an undertaking may, for example, indicate if an operational reporting system would be more appropriate for your business user than a data warehouse. Environmental and cultural barriers can cause considerable delays or problems with the acceptance and deployment of data warehousing technology. An organizational and business maturity assessment will mitigate this risk and ensure that you start off in the right direction.

Assessing Organizational Dynamics and Measurement

In assessing your business, look for a number of key organizational characteristics or features. These indicators provide a gauge of how effectively and rapidly your business users will be able to embrace the full benefits of this technology. The organizational dynamics assessment indicates where you are from a change-management perspective. For example, if little knowledge sharing is recognized or promoted across each line of business, then your data quality management process may have to be limited to rudimentary data clean up and verification rather than true data reengineering and consolidation across the business. An organizational assessment involves reviewing the leadership philosophy, level of collaboration and communication that exist within the business today.

Leadership Philosophy

Reviewing leadership philosophy involves taking a look into what types of mentoring or coaching exist at the management level. Areas of investigation include gauging the level of empowerment which exists at the knowledge-worker level as well as how the business promotes or motivates its workforce by employing techniques such as time sharing or home office management. If your business does not employ any of these techniques, or actively encourage or empower its work force to share knowledge, then you need to be cautious as to what type of data warehouse program you initiate.

Collaboration and Knowledge Sharing

To examine the level of collaboration and knowledge sharing which exists across each business unit you must understand how the business is organized. Your first task is to determine if the business is based on a traditional hierarchical model with all the associated approval hurdles, or whether it is more network-oriented. You should determine if your user departments actively share their knowledge and experience with others in different parts of the business. Ask yourself, "Is joint knowledge sharing rewarded by informal recognition, such as promoting staff lunches and outings?" Another means of assessing your organization is by examining how the business formally recognizes knowledge worker contributions through an employee rewards program.

A negative response or outlook will limit the overall impact and success of your data warehousing initiative. Ultimately your ability to deliver strategic value to the business will be significantly reduced. These sorts of environments usually end up developing tactical reporting and operational, vertically focused data marts, thereby limiting success.


The last area to consider is how well your business communicates internally and with the business community. Understanding how well your organization communicates internally speaks volumes in its ability to share knowledge. In assessing your organization's current level of communication you should inventory the types of mechanisms your business employs.

The first step is to identify how the business publishes and subscribes to information internally and externally. Various mediums exist including intranet/Internet, traditional document-based and text messaging. If the business actively promotes interdepartmental communication, you need to review its level of currency, accuracy and usage.

The final determinate is to analyze which way information flows. Does it flow top down from management or does new knowledge and insight come from knowledge workers and move upward? If your level of communication is minimal, infrequent and is published only by management, then your information management processes of the data warehousing effort will be adversely affected. This situation often results in the implementation of minimal functionality, which is difficult to monitor and support, due to unresponsive or misinformed knowledge workers. These types of actions drive down the level of data quality and the ability to learn and react quickly to changes in the business environment. This type of environment may also contribute to a total failure of the data warehousing program by not understanding how to deploy the additional knowledge capital which has been collected in the warehouse to promote operational efficiency and competitive awareness.

Understanding how your organization communicates its priorities will assist you in determining where your efforts should be directed. Obtaining this level of organizational awareness is the first step towards ensuring the success of your data warehousing program.

Next month's diary will feature determining the level of business process maturity which exists within your organization. The discussion will focus on a set of activities to perform to complete the overall business assessment process.

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