Does the thought of building a data warehouse using multiple vendors, tools and consultants leave you feeling as if you're imagining your worst nightmare – a labyrinth you can't work your way out of? Who hasn't heard the horror stories about warring vendors, noncompatible toolsets and consultants who come in and stay (and stay and stay)? It doesn't have to be that way. Really. If you do a few simple things on the front end of the project (or implement them post-haste if you have already started), your project will proceed smoothly. You will be able to navigate the data warehousing maze like a mouse to the cheese.

Technical Competence

First, you have to get a top-notch manager for the project. If you don't have one in house, hire one. He or she must have two essential qualities: technical competence and political savvy. By technical competence, I don't mean you have to find a technical guru. I do mean, however, that the project manager must be technically experienced enough to physically perform most of the project tasks – or at least understand innately how they are performed. A nontechnical manager is apt to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the project or seriously underestimate the difficulty of the endeavor. Either situation could be crippling to the project. Avoid them at all costs.

Political Savvy

Along with technical competence, the project manager must have tons of political savvy. He or she must be able to mediate between competing vendors, motivate the project team to give their best effort on the project and work with outside consultants to get the best knowledge transfer and most productive experience. The consulting relationship can be a touchy situation. Often insiders resent consultants who they assume will come in and "tell them how to do their jobs." A good project manager will find the right balance of obtaining knowledge transfer and expertise from the consultants while helping employees understand the necessity for the objective and specialized services provided by the consultants.

After finding a project manager, the next step is choosing tools and vendor/ consulting partners that are in line with your company's goals. No matter how much functionality a toolset purports to have, if you don't need those functions, the tool may not be right for you. Sometimes the hardest part of the data warehousing project is finding tools that provide the functionality your organization needs now and that will grow with you – without overwhelming you with gadgetry.

A Good Fit is Important

Choosing vendor/consulting partners that fit is important for many of the same reasons. For example, vendors may have built data warehouses for practically every type of business – except your type. It's important to choose vendors experienced in your particular business area so that they'll have the specialized knowledge it takes to tailor your warehouse to your business. The same is true for consultants. Although consultants may be a dime a dozen, good ones aren't – especially good ones who will send you people whose ears aren't totally wet and who have extensive knowledge of your industry.

It's also important to choose a consulting partner who mirrors your corporate personality. Stuffed shirts don't mix well with shorts and docksiders. That's exaggerated, but it will take some effort on your part to find a partner who understands not only the technical issues, but also meshes well with your style. Don't under-estimate this. When it comes to crunch time, you want to minimize distractions and get the job done. If your team is working with consultants they perceive to be partners instead of competitors, things will go much more smoothly and there will be much less chance of a "personal" issue causing problems.

Often, these human resource issues are the ones taken for granted on a project. Obviously, there will be a project manager, vendors and consultants. Tool issues are also often underplayed. Of course, it takes tools to build a data warehouse. However, these issues – and the lack or load of problems that come with them – often make or break a data warehouse project. Don't take them lightly. Give every aspect of the selection process of human and physical resources detailed attention. Make sure that all parts – both tangible and intangible – of the data warehouse will mesh smoothly. If you do this, the data warehousing labyrinth that was once your worst nightmare can become, instead, a data dream come true for your corporation.

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