I would like to thank DM Review for giving me the opportunity to author this column. This column will share the knowledge, real-life experiences and insights from our 1,200 Pricewaterhouse Coopers data warehousing professionals and, more importantly, our clients located throughout the world. In the first few columns, I will highlight a few best practices that we have found to be imperative to the successful implementation and use of data warehouses. To be truly successful, the process of building data warehousing solutions must support a business function that is directly linked to the company's strategy. This linkage is especially important for the development of your first subject area warehouse, or data mart, to ensure that it brings great value to the enterprise as well as provides excellent visibility for your data warehousing program and team.
To maximize these business benefits, it is absolutely critical to have active "business" involvement that begins at project inception and continues throughout the entire project life cycle. Data warehousing should not be positioned as a "Field of Dreams" project (i.e., "build it and they will come"). Business users and technology developers alike must team together to collaboratively deliver the business benefits anticipated from the data warehousing efforts.
Another important objective accomplished by focusing on the business benefits is executive sponsorship. In my experience, gaining executive sponsorship for data warehousing initiatives has been much easier than gaining similar support for other information technology-enabled initiatives (e.g., OLTP). One key reason is that most executives can quickly assimilate the tremendous value, both quantifiable and non-quantifiable, associated with the application of data warehousing solutions.
I will explore these areas in depth in future columns, but I will quickly mention a few areas that are clearly on the minds of executives today: revenue enhancement programs that focus on the customer (customer loyalty, life-time customer value, target marketing); customer and product profitability reporting (this is of particular interest to me because it brings to the table the complex dimensions most often associated with data warehousing cost, product and customer); enterprise performance measurement programs and "balanced scorecards" that tie individual and group performance to the success of the enterprise; human resource programs focused on employee retention and employee satisfaction; and advanced demand-planning systems that streamline your supply chain to control costs and inventory.
But there is a bigger and more basic challenge: most executives who have not been exposed to data warehousing need to be educated. And not just about the benefits they will understand this very quickly. The real questions on the minds of executives regarding data warehousing are: What is it? How do you do it? How long will it take? Who needs to be involved? And, how much will it cost? Now, for many of you this may seem odd, but I assure you that there is confusion in the board room when the words "data warehouse" are spoken. Fortunately, there are data warehousing-specific approaches, methodologies, estimating models and a growing wealth of best practices that can help answer these questions.
The final challenge relative to executive sponsorship concerns maintaining executive interest and commitment throughout the project. We have found that this is best accomplished through the use of an iterative approach, making sure that the first data warehousing application is a high priority for the executives and that it is implemented in a reasonable time frame. It is advantageous to form an executive steering committee and to meet with this committee regularly throughout the project. Be sure to include demonstrations or system prototypes during these meetings to generate excitement for the project. Designate full-time representatives from the business unit who are integral members of the project team, so that the executive sponsors remain engaged and the informal communication network will complement the steering committee meetings.
Now that we all okay most of us agree that the data warehouse must focus on supporting important business objectives, how do you accomplish this? We have found the most effective way to ensure that you hit a "home run" with your early data warehousing efforts is to begin with a process that we call Performance Measurement. This process begins with an understanding of a company's strategy and then identifies those programs for each major process within the value chain that must be in place to support this strategy. The measures, also referred to as key performance indicators (KPIs), required to support and measure the effectiveness of these programs are identified and become the basis for the prioritization and design of your data warehousing projects. This approach has the added advantage of ensuring that the company has a balanced set of measures across the enterprise, and it provides the road map for your long-term data warehousing strategy.
Borrowing from one of Stephen Covey's "Seven Habits," my experiences in data warehousing reinforce the importance to "begin with the end in mind." The "end" must focus on providing tremendous value to your business. As I like to remind our clients and consultants, the value of your data warehouse is directly proportional to the business benefit that it brings to the organization.
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