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Are You Ready for Data Warehousing? Part 2 – Business Maturity

  • October 15 1999, 1:00am EDT

My previous column focused on organizational inhibitors which may affect the success of our data warehousing program In this edition of the Diary, the second major criteria of success – the level of business process maturity – is addressed.

Business process maturity indicates how focused your organization is on the problems at hand, such as staying competitive. The results of this process educate us to whether the business is consumed with day-to-day operational issues or if the decision-makers can look above the tree tops and survey the competitive landscape. Some key indicators include whether the business is product- or customer-focused as well as looking to other sources of information, such as industry surveys, to assess where the business is leading or trailing in its field. Business process maturity assessment also looks at data in terms of coming to grips with data quality issues. This process also involves investigating the level of customer focus, its continuous improvement capability and its degree of competitive advantage for new customers. These factors are important in determining the payback value of collecting and managing your most critical subject area of information.

Customer Focus

Undertaking a customer-focused assessment involves determining how proactive and responsive your business is to its customers. The assessment starts with reviewing the various types of customer touchpoints, such as customer service representatives and electronic media. Policy and general business practice information can reveal if the customer truly comes first by its ability to proactively redirect critical customer care questions from the help desk to management. From a data warehousing perspective, additional leverage can be obtained by providing cross-lines-of-business information to vertical-oriented customer touchpoints. For example, can a life insurance provider look to the educational needs of its client if that client is a young family and must plan for education? Are your customer contacts encouraged to probe for this information, or are they measured on the number of responses they can address over a given time period? If cross-lines-of-business selling is not to be encouraged, then your efforts to return customer information to the customer touchpoints through the data warehouse will not be realized or appreciated. Nor will its economic bottom-line impact be easily rectified, such as poor customer service and increasing rates of customer churn through dissatisfaction with products and services.

Continuous Improvement

Next you must address your business in terms of its focus on continuous improvement. Decide if rewards for business performance are based on purely operational efficiency and downsizing to stay economically viable, or on the development of competitive advantage capabilities. It is necessary to understand how quickly and efficiently new products and services are deployed to market. Other factors to address include how proactive the business is in understanding the changing nature of the market. Does the business employ proactive outbound marketing programs or simply react to advances being made by the competition? If your business is solely inbound focused, how does it determine that a customer response was in reaction to a new marketing program or campaign? In developing your assessment, determine the success rate in deploying new programs, products or services as well as the time frame required from their inception to delivery.

Again, you must gauge where, how and even if data warehousing can assist in delivering focused improvement. If you are not satisfied with your answer, then the time variant or historical aspect of data warehousing efforts, will not be viable or realistic to consider as part of your first release. In such cases, data warehousing efforts would be better directed at delivering current state management reporting data through operational data stores or localized data mart applications. Save the "real" warehouse for later and focus instead on improving the flow and quality of data to decision-makers to get the business back on its feet before giving it a gentle nudge forward.

Competitive Advantage

Building on continuous improvement is the ability of the organization to become competitive or maintain its level of competitive advantage. Culling out areas of competitive advantage include determining the various types of proactive and investigative business processes in place in the planning and marketing areas of your organization. Other criteria to investigate include understanding what matrix or cross-line-of-business services or groups exist to exploit the knowledge capital within the organization. Answers to these questions will help determine how well armed your business is and how competitive it shall remain.

The Review Process

In undertaking the business process maturity assessment, you can conduct either an extensive business review or a quick strike assessment.

Extensive Business Review

Undertaking extensive business review requires a two- to three-month engagement with a major consulting firm to provide the necessary expertise. This approach yields a wealth of information on the key people, process and technology enablers and should be considered if the business is undergoing critical reengineering of its core functionality. However, the more effective and practical approach due to the critical time constraints usually found in data warehousing projects is to adopt an incremental or focused approach.

Focused Assessment

The focused assessment approach concentrates on a surgical analysis of key business drivers and maturity assessment indicators. This approach is usually completed in as little as four weeks 1. With this process you identify and staff a core team and collect and compile relevant materials such as financial reports, policy guides, IT and business plans, and industry surveys. Set aside enough time to conduct a set of critical core interviews. This will allow your team enough time to digest the results and come up with a "score" which measures the level of business process maturity within the organization. The results will determine the type of data warehousing process that will lead to the greatest benefits for your business.

The types of data warehousing projects that can be recommended from the results achieved above will be the topic of next month’s Diary.


1. The effort required and duration of this study will vary based on the breadth and depth of the analysis.

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