KEEPING PACE WITH BUSINESS USERS OVER TIME Lead, follow or get run over. These words are the battle cry in the information war. Imagine your company's data warehouse marching band coming down the road. As the duly appointed data warehouse drum major, you have three choices:

1. Lead the band (of users)

Pick the music. Set the tempo. March the band around the field a few times in formation. With a solid technical architecture, data integrity and easy-to-use distributed tools, the band will march all night. And, as drum major, you add value to your company's well-oiled information machine.

2. Follow the band (of users).

You are still the drum major, but the business users pick the tune. You provide the "data architecture" but not business solutions. Business users are left on their own to create a repository of business rules and report templates. At least you provided a sample set of reports, views and basic technical training. We are all playing the same song, just not at the same time.

3. Get run over by the band.

You don't believe in the need for a drum major. Hey, IT has enough problems just keeping the core systems operating on time. Let the business users extract data from the mainframe and choose their own tools to manipulate reports. Just don't try to update the mainframe, because it is "mission critical" and the only source of information integrity. The problem is that once business users have had to invent their version of a data architecture, business rules and a reporting engine, they aren't going to change it for you. In fact, they aren't going to share it with you. It's like trying to get the toothpaste back in the tube. It's going to be messy, and not much toothpaste will be recovered.


THE MORAL

The best way to keep pace with business users is by staying ahead of them. You can't lead from the rear. And tire tracks on your back don't get you the corner office.

How do you keep pace with business users and evolve the data warehouse over time?

A wise man once said, "If you don't know where you are going, then any road will do." Simply put, if you don't understand the business information needs, then it is unlikely that you will fulfill those needs. You need to know where the business user wants to go today and where he needs to go tomorrow.

What is the strategic business plan?

How is information used to achieve the plan? What products make money? Which territories produce the highest profit margins? How do we rank against our competitors? What do our clients think of us? Find the top ten categories of information that business users want, and then provide them with the answers to the top ten questions in each category. Build the infrastructure and tools so that the business users can answer these questions themselves. Lead the band. Pick the music. Set the tempo. March the band around the field a few times in formation. Show off. You've earned it.

The key to building a (data warehouse) jigsaw puzzle is the picture on the box top.

We've all built a jigsaw puzzle with the kids. Without the picture on the box of what we are trying to build, the effort is not much fun. You don't even know if a puzzle piece is stuck in the sofa cushions. Sit down with each of your key business users and construct a picture of your data warehouse puzzle box. How many pieces are in the puzzle? How do we get the data to complete the puzzle? In what order do we construct the puzzle? How do we get the data to complete the puzzle? In what order do we construct the puzzle? Bottom up? Top down? Maybe we should just assemble the easy parts first, so no one gets discouraged.

In any event, get written agreement on the puzzle picture plan, who is going to do what, when, and then proceed to build the puzzle. Puzzles that never get assembled are of little value. Likewise, trying to force the puzzle pieces together without the picture on the data warehouse puzzle box is not much fun either.

A final note: A data warehouse is a journey, not a destination. Plan for a journey where you constantly check to know you are on course. Just be sure to pack a map and a compass. And your drum major uniform.

Next month: Data warehouse meta data--what is that?

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