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Enterprise Data Warehouse Strategy: Articulating the Vision

Published
  • January 01 2003, 1:00am EST

A weak strategic plan for an enterprise data warehouse (EDW) environment can result in untold millions being wasted in rework. That does not even include lost opportunity to increase bottom-line dollars to an organization via incisive analytics and reporting. While frightening, the good news is that projects can be planned and implemented in a judicious manner that will deliver results with speed and certainty. The typical EDW initiative is driven by the business need for organizations to compete at a global level. This requires data standardization, data conformance and data sharing. An EDW sets the foundation for sharing data across the enterprise in a controlled and managed environment.

Corporate Strategies and Goals

Most Fortune 1000 organizations share the following key corporate strategies and goals:

  • Producing the highest quality products,
  • Focusing on high-growth, high-margin segments,
  • Investing in high-potential markets and brands,
  • Building organizational excellence and improving cost structure and efficiencies, and
  • Pursuing strategic opportunities.

Your organization will effectively address these priorities through the development of a comprehensive and effective EDW environment. An EDW will support the creation of top-notch analytics and business intelligence to answer the questions needed to meet these priorities. Implementing such a solution can take the form of a project-based, independent data-mart approach or be done in a strategic manner by first developing an EDW strategy document.

A well thought-out EDW strategy helps your organization:

  • Gain proper high-level business sponsorship.
  • Provide the tools and processes required for IT to effectively manage the complexities of your organization's most precious asset, its information.
  • Set the foundation for sharing data across the enterprise in a controlled and managed environment.
  • Provide a consistent enterprise-wide view to the end user ensuring data integrity and reliability across systems at a global level.
  • Gain maximum advantage from its enterprise resource planning (ERP) and legacy systems investment through data integration at an enterprise level.
  • Set the stage for comprehensive enterprise-wide business intelligence and the prodigious return on investment that such analytic capability can deliver to your organization in meeting its top management goals.

Not having an EDW strategy will result in a piecemeal approach to data warehousing efforts. This will lead to inconsistency, duplicity, disparate data warehouses that may give conflicting answers to basic questions (loss of data integrity), thereby negating the usefulness of a data warehouse and frittering away opportunities to maximize scarce IT dollars. Furthermore, it also results in loss of opportunity to add to your organization's bottom-line dollars due to inability to make sound and correct business decisions. The consequences of a short-term, independent data mart approach can be far-reaching to the organization. The negative effects of such a strategy have been well documented in industry journals and research studies by leading research organizations such as AMR, META Group and Gartner, Inc.

Questions Addressed

An EDW strategy will guide the design and deployment of the solution. It should answer the following questions:

  • Why are you building an EDW environment?
  • What is the scope of the EDW environment?
  • Who are the stakeholders of the EDW environment?
  • Who are the business sponsors of the EDW environment?
  • What are the business objectives and goals that the EDW environment will help achieve?
  • What business problems will and will not be addressed by the EDW environment?
  • What are the high-level requirements for business use of enterprise data?
  • What are the risks involved and how will they be managed?
  • What is your organization's enterprise application integration strategy? How does it affect and/or how can it be leveraged for the EDW environment?
  • What is your organization's information delivery strategy? Are the end users both external (customers, suppliers, partners) and internal? How will data be delivered to these end users?
  • How will the EDW environment interface with and potentially support the existing (or those being retired) portfolio of decision support system (DSS) applications?
  • What is the migration strategy for moving existing data warehouses/marts to the EDW environment?
  • What is the implementation road map or detailed project plan on how to arrive at the end-state vision of your EDW?
  • Is your organization ready to build an EDW environment from both business and technology perspectives?

Strategy Definition Activities

In order to address these questions, the following activities need to occur. It is our experience that these activities take anywhere from four to six weeks. The duration is greatly influenced by the availability of the key business and IT leaders. As with any strategic activity, participation of senior executives is key. You must make a strong business case to senior management to obtain the necessary level of executive commitment and participation.

An effective EDW strategy will include the following deliverables:

  • Business Strategy to EDW Strategy Mapping: This deliverable documents your organization's business strategy including a statement of business direction, mission, goals and objectives. Mapping the EDW strategy to the business strategy will help ensure that the business vision of the executive management team is factored into the resultant DSS environment.
  • Scope Statement: This deliverable defines the boundaries of the proposed EDW environment. It documents the business units and business areas that will benefit from the EDW, including external partners. It documents the business functions that will be supported or the decision making that will be enabled by the EDW. It also defines the business operational areas that will feed data to the EDW.
  • EDW Stakeholders: This deliverable determines key organizational stakeholders – those who have the most to win or lose by the implementation of the EDW. It identifies why they are stakeholders and their expectations.
  • Business Goals and Objectives: This deliverable identifies the business reasons for building and maintaining the EDW. These goals are constrained and measurable statements about the effort. It documents the business rationale and business drivers that are driving the EDW initiative.
  • Business Benefits: This deliverable identifies the business benefits associated with deploying and maintaining an EDW.
  • Critical Success Factors: This deliverable lists specific overriding factors and accomplishments necessary within the EDW initiative that must be met to consider the effort a success.
  • Risk Factors: The failure to address the critical success factors gives rise to certain risks. In addition, there are other risks that may impact the success of the EDW initiative and the realization of the goals and objectives of the project. These risks are documented along with suggested mitigation.
  • EDW Organization Statement: This deliverable addresses the strong and natural tendency of isolated reporting environments, either by function or by geography. The listener always acknowledges the value of information integration, as long as it is understood that it is the listener who will be doing the integration, not some central bureaucratic organization. This deliverable will identify the most effective enterprise data warehousing organization.
  • Existing Data Warehousing Strategy: This deliverable provides a set of matrices mapping the currently designed and/or deployed data objects to the business intelligence processes supported. For example, customer data may be stored in departmental data marts redundantly. This information will provide an understanding of the extent of DSS "silos" built to date.
  • Information Delivery Strategy: This deliverable describes how your organization will share information collaboratively with customers, suppliers and other external partners. It also describes what kinds of information and the manner in which it will be made available to internal users of your organization.
  • Enterprise Application Integration Strategy: This deliverable defines the standards being adopted by your organization regarding the movement of transactional data between different OLTP applications and external partners and also within the EDW environment.
  • Data Architecture Strategy: This deliverable describes the approach to be followed when modeling the various levels of the EDW environment (conceptual, logical and physical.)
  • Meta Data Management Strategy: This deliverable describes the approach to be followed when facing the challenge of maintaining and synchronizing the various tools that create and maintain their own meta data. With each extraction, administration and query tool creating and maintaining its own set of meta data, your organization faces tough challenges in delivering integrated and consistent enterprise level meta data to end users.
  • Strategy: This deliverable defines a migration strategy for the existing DSS systems. An EDW environment will not be implemented in a single release nor will all existing legacy DSS systems migrate to it at the same time. The most prudent approach is to follow the iterative development paradigm. It also discusses the retirement of existing DSS solutions which do not enable an enterprise view of information.
  • EDW Implementation Road Map: This deliverable produces a detailed project plan used to incrementally arrive at the end-state vision of your EDW.

Turning Vision into Reality

Successful EDW implementations are dependent on having firm senior management commitment and involvement to:

  • Enable business process transformation.
  • Enable organizational and cultural changes.
  • Empower employees.
  • Articulate key performance indicators (KPIs) by enterprise, business unit and subject area.
  • Dedicate action-takers on both a tactical and strategic level to react quickly to KPI drift.
  • Project funding, leadership and ongoing internal communication.

Properly done, with shared values and commitment, your organization will join those firms that have successfully reaped the benefits of an EDW. Improperly done, extensive efforts will result in enormous loss of opportunity, tremendous cost, discouragement and frustration.

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