Last month, I examined large technology organizations that sell enterprise applications and consulting to their clients, but internally lack what they sell and implement. These organizations understand the value of the systems that are their bread and butter as well as the organizational and cultural changes necessary to ensure successful adoption. However, many of them are remarkably similar to the shoemakers who spend all of their time making shoes for others, while never noticing their children are unshod.

In my last column, I also highlighted the ways these companies can benefit from data warehouses by using diverse applications that streamline the process of generating proposals, measure costs and success rates for jobs, use the information to spend sales time more profitably, improve staff utilization by more accurately predicting roll-offs and resulting bench times based on past performance, and recognize potential problem projects before they pass the point of no return. I also highlighted some of the challenges companies face when trying to implement enterprise technology, including growth by acquisition, historic lack of focus on internal technology and the very nature of partnership type structures.

Fortunately, some technology and consulting organizations have overcome the inherent challenges and shod their children. They accomplished this by doing many of the same things I advise clients to do such as understanding the challenges, developing well-reasoned action plans with contingencies and keeping culture and organization well within their sightlines. This month, I explain the keys to success by delving into typical challenges and highlighting ways to overcome them.

First, growth by acquisition causes several issues including the inheritance of independent, duplicate internal systems and diverse technologies. Unlike other industries, where many acquisitions are targeted at growing the customer base through the acquisition of competitor’s customers, technology companies typically make acquisitions to gain functionality or enhance the technology of their product suites. Significant effort is spent integrating the acquired applications so they can be offered to customers, sometimes to the detriment of internal IT needs. Many companies succumb to the temptation to forsake internal system integration efforts to focus on the external products.

Second, acquisitions and partnerships also support the notion of business silos - making the selling and funding of internal expenditures difficult. There may be no single group tasked exclusively with understanding the enterprise view, because each partner or business head is dedicated to their particular area with little time to spend focusing on other areas until a problem arises. Also, the information may not be there in the appearance format for executives who need it. We have worked with several large organizations that have armies of “heros” working around the clock to provide executives with information. It is only when the growth of the company outstrips its ability to grow its army that executives and partners feel the pain.

So how do we “herd the cats” to overcome these silos and expand the focus to include internal and external needs? First, establish a governance mechanism. Governance is formally defined as the set of people and processes required for controlling the business intelligence (BI) environment. It sets the program strategy and modifies it as business drivers and conditions change. It provides the executive oversight and support needed to bring diverse business groups together and ensure compliance, cooperation and participation. It drives the prioritization of projects, ensuring that the building of a data warehouse is closely tied to strategic objectives to provide business value. And, it helps to secure the funding.

Without strong governance, the problems in the technology and consulting industry would be impossible to overcome. Getting started in governance is not always easy. Generally, it will require that the organization conduct a thorough assessment of its internal environment - including all BI needs, not just those touted by the vocal minority. This will help surface all opportunities and will provide all groups the impetus to participate. It will also help to identify the existing BI applications, architectures and issues, and will enable the group to put together a migration plan to the new environment. Next, it is imperative that the assessment be used to forge a coalition of interested executives that will both form the nucleus of the governance group and help negotiate early participation with the other executives and partners.

Fortunately, many technology companies have managed to herd the cats. One I know of has a large data warehouse covering 60 percent of corporate information subjects, a flourishing BI center of excellence and a strong governance mechanism that mandates use of the data warehouse for all information. Another built a large, well-used enterprise sales data warehouse leveraging its own product technology, which is accessed globally and enthusiastically pitched by its users to its customers.

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