From almost any angle, the adoption of an enterprise data warehouse (EDW) makes so much sense. After all, an EDW - designed to produce a unified and comprehensive view of data that an organization accumulates - would logically provide a myriad of business benefits. A company’s business knowledge resides in one central location, making it easier for users to access. Profitability at all levels of a company can be quickly reviewed. But the ultimate benefit is that the EDW provides organizations with a single view of the enterprise data across disparate business units and IT systems - a single version of the “corporate truth,” if you will - to assist management in making sounder and better-informed business decisions.

Yet, despite the promise of increased business efficiencies and greater overall profitability, many companies find that the buy-in process for an EDW can be an overwhelming challenge. There are a number of reasons for this reality, yet in the end, they all tend to fall into one of two categories:

  1. An inability or unwillingness by specific personnel or departments to recognize how the EDW will specifically benefit them.
  2. An inability on the part of the decision-makers to grasp the true ROI of the EDW.

Defining the EDW

Before examining in greater depth the reasons why it can be so difficult to rally universal approval for an EDW, it is necessary to define the term.

As mentioned, a true EDW is a single version of the organization’s business data. Given the variety of IT systems and repositories of data that reside in most business organizations, particularly larger ones, creating such an entity can be daunting. Still, unless it consolidates all data elements into one cohesive entity, it cannot truly be labeled an EDW.

The EDW must incorporate many departmental disciplines, including but not limited to accounting, sales, R&D, human resources, etc. It should be flexible enough to incorporate new disciplines in the future as necessary.

While single-subject data marts have traditionally been built using denormalized models as their underlying architecture, EDWs tend to utilize a more normalized model. User friendliness and orientation should be key priorities for the proper construction of the EDW in order to encourage widespread use of the system as well as allow users to operate solely at the business level; that is, no one should have to be overly technologically savvy to share in the system’s benefits.

The Challenges - and Overcoming Them

With this definition as a backdrop, it is easier to comprehend the challenges required to gain approval for the EDW concept. These challenges are not insurmountable, as long as they are correctly and quickly identified.

One of the primary questions is, what does each group within an organization require to ensure their initial and ultimate acceptance of the EDW project? Often, unless an organization takes the initiative to develop a center of excellence (CoE) - an internal group that provides consulting services and oversight to the various data warehousing development groups within an organization - the company just flails around trying to make the project work.

For the end-user community, approval is a byproduct of knowing that they will have access to a tool that is extremely intuitive and that does not require them to learn a “foreign” language. For the IT support staff, it is being clear on the exact nature of their domain responsibilities, as IT is increasingly becoming the gatekeeper of a company’s information infrastructure. For executive leadership, it is having the confidence that they are going to be able to get the trusted information they need to make intelligent business decisions as well as understand the specific system ROI - if not in actual dollars, at least in strategic and productivity improvement. Compliance officers have to be assured that the system will operate in accordance with all of the appropriate rules and regulations of their industry.

Ultimately, everyone has their own agendas and priorities when it comes to the EDW project. What must happen is that all of these agendas and priorities must align seamlessly with the overarching strategic goals of the organization. Once this occurs, the clarity of the buy-in can begin to take shape, with each person realizing that he is just one cog - albeit an important cog - in the overall machinery.

Who Sets the Goals?

This begs the question: where do these overarching goals originate? When you’re talking about a medium-sized or large enterprise, these goals are primarily established by the organization’s executive leadership team. Typical high-level strategic objectives include cutting service response time by 20 percent; adopting a just-in-time operating policy where no more than seven day’s worth of supplies are kept on hand; growing a certain percent per year for the next five years with a hybrid organic/inorganic strategy; opening up new markets; or increasing net profits by x number of dollars.

Once these objectives are clearly and succinctly laid out by management and filtered down to the individual departments, the best scenario is that each department not only embraces them but immediately sees the obstacles to achieving them with the company’s current technological resources. The ideal response would be, “Gee, I’d love to increase customer service, but we have one database here, another one over there and a manual process here, so there’s just no way our current systems can help us meet this goal.” Consequently, the introduction of an EDW that can help knock down these obstacles would ostensibly be a welcome addition.

Fear of Technology and Change

Sadly, personnel from different departments often harbor certain fears about new technology as well as being generally defiant about embracing change. Take IT, for example. Perhaps they simply don’t buy in to the project right from the beginning. The support staff thinks, “We don’t really need this, and it will just be more work for us. Things are fine the way they are.”

In these cases, a company champion - an executive manager who is solidly behind the project - can present ROI data and cost/benefit scenarios that will help bring everyone on board. Even without hard numbers, this person may adequately explain how the new system will make the company more competitive and better poised to maintain or improve its industry position.

Political and Personality Issues

Inevitably, there will be internal political and personality issues - people who just do not like other people, those who will not see the value in an idea that is not theirs, etc. These barriers have to be broken down as well. Once you break these barriers down, people begin to see what is in it for them. Pinpointing the exact cause of the conflict is the first step in getting people to buy into the project and relate the benefits back to their own departmental goals. This makes the idea of the EDW much more palatable and easier to digest.

Certainly, there may be instances where the root of a particular conflict cannot be identified. Perhaps there is a deep-seated enmity between two departments or people that started so long ago no one even remembers its genesis. In these cases, getting departments or people to accept a corporate truce in the interest of organizational benefit is a good start.

Maintaining Focus

Depending on the size of project, the actual ROI may take substantial time to realize. In these cases, how do you keep people hanging on until the benefits of the project start to appear? The entire process is most definitely a paradigm and cultural shift that can unnerve even the most ardent supporters of the project. In these cases, it is important to keep everyone’s eyes focused on the prize. Besides constantly reiterating the corporate and departmental benefits, it is advisable - and ultimately beneficial - to seek out each department’s input into the implementation. When people see their feedback and advice taken seriously, if not outright incorporated, it is far easier for them to jump in with both feet.

Cleaning House

In the end, there may well be certain factions which, for one reason or another, will simply never buy into the EDW concept. Management may be totally convinced of the project’s worth, and they may even be confident that the person causing the uproar will benefit. Sometimes this comes at the expense of sorting players out. The fact is, companies that want to foster aggressive growth strategies - both organically and inorganically - need to focus on two critical areas:

  1. They need to figure out how to assimilate organizations into their culture.
  2. They need to have solid processes and practices in place to allow them to assimilate their data assets into their infrastructure - i.e., the EDW.

Few people in executive leadership want to leave people by the side of the road as they push their business initiatives, like the EDW, to fruition. Still, there are people who, for one reason or another, will always want to see a project fail.
When I talk to an organization about developing a data warehouse, especially EDWs - I remind them that departmental managers come and go; personnel come and go; financial reports will come and go. The only question should be, “Is this an overarching priority for your organization?” If the answer is yes, it has to be embraced by everyone in the organization to see it to successful completion. Once company management decides, “This is where we’re going, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem,” people tend to fall into line.

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