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BPM and Enterprise Dimension Management

Published
  • June 01 2005, 1:00am EDT

Enterprise dimension management is a close cousin to master data management, or meta data management, which is familiar to more technical readers - however, enterprise dimension management is important to business users because it is something they can control, and should control. In the case of business performance management (BPM), it is a critical element - after all, BPM is all about leveraging data residing in multiple source systems. Without enterprise dimension management, you risk relying on data that is out of sync.

Enterprise dimension management focuses on correctly managing the dimensions used to roll up data, analyze it and report it. Simply put, behind the clean-looking reports of many large corporations is a huge mess, which enterprise dimension management aims to fix. The mess has a few causes:

  1. Each enterprise has assembled its own "portfolio" of systems. While there's been ongoing debate over the integrated single-vendor suite versus the best-of-breed approach, it's clear that single-vendor is a rarity. If your company owns multiple BPM or reporting tools, there's a good chance that each tool is being used to roll up data differently. The more subtle the differences, the more insidious the mistakes that creep into higher-level reports.
  2. Your divisions or subsidiaries have their own traditional or cultural ways of rolling up data. Take a fictitious example: your French division rolls up fresh coffee under Household Staples, but puts decaf powdered coffee under Processed Beverages. Your U.S. division counts both under Breakfast Food. Any report covering these products, or combining these regions, will require hours of analyst sweat -- and probably lead to reporting errors.
  3. Change. Your French division acquires a coffee company that has 50 different coffee products. Now what? Who decides how the reports are structured? Another change: your U.S. coffee product manager, seeing new preferences in his market, begins to count Costa Rican and Brazilian coffee separately - but at the same time, management starts asking for breakouts by another dimension: sales to retail grocery, sales to wholesalers and sales to coffee houses. Too many cooks in the reporting kitchen. Nobody - least of all the technical administrators fielding new report requests -- can remember who changed what, when they changed it or what happened to the old report.

What's the solution? Enterprise dimension management is disarmingly simple. It arrives in the form of a software system. You decide which of your transactional, analytic, data storage and reporting systems will subscribe to the enterprise dimension management system. Once they are subscribed and a dimension is changed in the enterprise dimension management system, that rollup/structure change can be "committed" to every subscribing system.Who gets to change the dimensions? That is handled as a role-based privilege. Management may assign one person to sort out the coffee mess before the acquisition and later allow product managers latitude in rolling up their own basket of products.

How do you know what was changed? The enterprise dimension management system keeps track of previous changes to report structures and hierarchies, and who changed them.

Not agreeing on a company-wide set of reporting (and analytical) dimensions is much like setting up a financial system without agreeing on a chart of accounts. It's understood that analysts need some freedom to spot problems and opportunities, but with a multitude of systems offering data in different structures, that freedom can spiral out of control. Enterprise dimension management can keep the enterprise's official and strategic reports consistent, while allowing analysts and managers to explore under coexisting sets of dimensions that are only for creative analysis, never used for reports.

For anyone involved with a BPM initiative, the issue of enterprise dimension management will be at your doorstep in the near future if it is not there already. Another way to look at it: the first time your OLAP analyst decided to set up a new data cube with its own way of organizing data, you became the proud parent of an enterprise dimension management problem.

There are several vendors with solutions that address enterprise dimension management or master data management. Many larger vendors, SAP as an example, recognize the importance of master data management and have purpose-built modules that assist the synchronization of meta data for SAP applications. Hyperion recognized the value of this approach and recently acquired Razza Solutions to leverage their dimension management capabilities for Essbase and third-party systems. There are also cross-platform organizations, such as Stratature, whose +EDM (enterprise dimension management) platform functions with a range of business intelligence tools including Cognos' PowerPlay, Hyperion's Essbase, Microsoft's Analysis Services and Applix's TM1 along with data structures from major enterprise resource planning (ERP) and data warehouse players. Although the technology needs to align with your in-house application, the business decisions and management approach to enterprise dimension management requires particular experience. 

Enterprise dimension management is a process that makes a best-of-breed approach to BPM highly workable, among its other virtues. Keep an eye on this emerging area, whether it goes by the name of master data management, enterprise dimension management or other related names vendors and analysts will create in the future

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