Last month, I urged you to pause briefly before charging forward on yourambitious data warehousing/business intelligence (DW/BI) project. You weresupposed to use this pause to answer a checklist of major environmentalquestions regarding business requirements, quality data and whether yourorganization is ready to attack the hard issues of integration, compliance andsecurity.

While answering the questions, I hope you talked to all your business-userclients and bosses who may have a stake or a responsibility in the DW/BI system.Before the memory of these conversations fades away, I suggest you make athorough list of all the promises you made as you were selling the concept ofthe DW/BI system. It wouldn’t surprise me if you said, “Yes, we’ll:”

  • Tie the rolling operational results to the general ledger (GL).
  • Implement effective compliance.
  • Identify and implement all the key performance indicators (KPIs) needed bymarketing, sales and finance and make them available in the executive dashboard.
  • Encourage the business community to add new cost drivers to our systemrequirements so that they can calculate activity-based costing and accurateprofit across the enterprise. And while we are adding these cost drivers, we’llwork out all the necessary allocation factors to assign these costs againstvarious categories of revenue.
  • Identify and implement all the customer satisfaction indicators needed bymarketing.
  • Seamlessly integrate all the customer-facing operational processes into asingle coherent system.
  • Promise to use exclusively the front-end, middleware and back-end toolsprovided by the enterprise resource planning (ERP) vendor whose worldwidelicense was just signed by our CEO.
  • Be the first showcase application for the new service-oriented architecture(SOA) initiative, and we’ll implement, manage and validate the newinfrastructure.
  • Implement and manage server virtualization for the DW/BI system. And thisnew system will be “green.”
  • Implement and manage the storage area network (SAN) for the DW/BI system.
  • Implement and manage security and privacy for all data in the DW/BI system,including responsibility for the LDAP directory server and its associatedauthentication and authorization functions. We’ll also make sure that all dataaccesses by the sales force in the field are secure.
  • Define the requirements for long-term archiving and recovery of data lookingforward 20 years.

Looking at this list of promises all at once, you might wonder who in theirright mind would agree to them. Actually, I am much more sympathetic than it mayseem. You must address these topics because they are all key facets of the DW/BIchallenge. But if you gave the answers as literally stated, you have lostcontrol of your boundaries. You have taken on far too much, you have madepromises you can’t deliver and your business clients and enterprise bosses haveabrogated or avoided key responsibilities that they must own. More seriously,even if you think you can deliver all these promises, you are not in a powerfulenough position in your enterprise to make all these results happen.
You don’t have to be a grumpy curmudgeon to be a good DW/BI system manager.This isn’t about saying no to every possible responsibility. You will be doingyour enterprise a favor by alerting and educating your business users andenterprise bosses to the appropriate boundaries of responsibilities. You canstill be an enthusiastic advocate, as long as your boundaries are clear. Let’sdescribe the key boundaries.

Boundaries with the business users. Your job is to find the businessusers, interview them and interpret what they tell you into specific DW/BIdeliverables. You must assemble a findings document that describes the resultsof the interviews and how you interpreted what the business users told you.Their responsibility is to be available for the interviews and to put energyinto describing how they make decisions. Later in the process, the businessusers have a responsibility to provide feedback on your findings. You cannotattempt to define business requirements without a full 50 percent participationfrom the business user community.

Your job is not over after the first round of interviews. You must encourageongoing business user feedback and suggestions, and also educate the businessusers as to the realities of system development. View this as a mutual learningprocess. In the latter stages of development of a DW/BI system, you simplycannot add new KPIs and especially new data sources to the project withoutslipping the delivery date. You cannot suddenly change a batch-oriented systeminto a real-time pipeline. Your business users must be understanding andtrusting partners of the DW/BI system development, and they have to understandthe costs of sudden new requirements. Bottom line: business users must becomesophisticated observers of the DW/BI development process and know when it isinappropriate to change the scope by adding new KPIs, new data sources or newreal-time requirements.

Boundaries with finance. Of the promises you made, several should bethe responsibility of finance. You should never agree to implement costallocations, even if the “profit system” is your main responsibility. Not onlyare cost allocations very complex, but the assignment of costs to variousrevenue-producing departments is bad news politically. In this case, financeshould work out the logical and political implications of the cost allocations,and you can quietly implement them.

You also should never agree to tie rolling operational results to the GL. Indimensional modeling parlance, you can’t make this happen because the GLdimensions, such as organization and account, can’t be conformed to theoperational dimensions, such as customer and product. Also, special GLtransactions, such as journal adjustments done at the end of the month, oftencannot be put into an operational context. Again, you need to hand this issueback to finance and wait for a solution from them.

Boundaries across organizations. These days it is hard to findanyone who argues against integration of all your data assets under the DW/BIumbrella. But this challenge is 70 percent political and only 30 percenttechnical. Your executives must establish a corporate culture that sends a veryclear message to all the separate departments that they must come together toagree on common dimensional attributes, key performance metrics and calendars.Your executives must lead the way before you can do your job.

Boundaries with legal. In the early 90s, we often lamented that thedata warehouse wasn’t seeing widespread use. Well, now we have the oppositeproblem. A big piece, shall I say headache, of being taken very seriously isproviding adequate security, privacy, archiving and compliance across the DW/BIsystem. But you can’t do anything until you understand your enterprise’spolicies. You must not define these policies yourself. You can lose your job andgo to jail if you get these wrong. Go to your legal department with a list ofareas where you need firm guidance.

Boundaries with IT. Strangely, one of the most important boundariesyou must maintain is IT. You should be able to rely on other groups within ITfor storage (either SAN or NAS), server virtualization, LDAP server maintenance,authentication technologies and providing new infrastructure such as SOA.

Most of us in the DW/BI business are natural salespeople. We are evangelistsfor the use of our systems because we really believe they will benefit thebusiness. But we need to be conscious of trying to please the client too much.Ultimately, the DW/BI system will be much more successful if all the otherparties described in this column are equal, responsible partners.

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