Recently I was a guest speaker for a group in Montreal talking about how to develop a business intelligence (BI) center of excellence (CoE). During the presentation I had two different audience members ask variations of the same question. The essence of the question was this: How does a business unit sell the concepts of BI and the CoE to the IT group? In both instances, the business unit had built a local data warehouse with little or no IT help. Both business units had reached the point where demand for integrated data (inside and outside the business area) was growing, but the current level of technical resources available in the business made supporting the data warehouse difficult and scaling it impossible. Both viewed the CoE as a possible path out of the resourcing conundrum they found themselves in, and both recognized the time was ripe for transitioning the data warehouse to IT. Unfortunately, the IT groups had little data warehouse experience, and the business/IT relationship was a bit strained. One of the questioners said to me, “As I listen to you talk, I realize that my department is the CoE, and we should not be - so how do we sell IT on the need to expand their skill sets, take over the warehouse and build a BICoE?”

The first time this question was raised, I gave a quick and simple answer: teach IT about the benefits of data warehousing, take them with you to a TDWI conference and show them that other IT groups have long since ventured into this territory. When it came up again later (placing me squarely in the hot seat for brushing it off the first time), I realized that I have become lazy when presenting on the CoE - falling into the habit of assuming that IT has to sell the benefits of a CoE to the business and not the other way around. To give the question the attention it deserves, I needed to shake off my somewhat complacent IT-centric perspective and take a walk on the wild side (adopt the business viewpoint).

Business and IT Must Communicate

How much difference is there in the approach when selling from the business perspective to IT? While contemplating my on-the-spot answer to the Montreal group, I mentally ticked off the avenues I would pursue were I in their shoes. The mental checklist led to a surprising realization - the selling steps are largely the same; it is simply the seller’s starting position and subsequent learning curve that is different.

How so? In this situation, the technology group has to be educated on both the data warehouse in general and on the business benefits a warehouse can bring. It turns out my first answer was not so bad after all - it was simply incomplete. The steps for the business here are no different from what I would advise IT to do when the situation is reversed; I stress the need to find a sponsor, look for business value and identify possible ROI. The difference is that the ROI and value part of this equation should be a no-brainer for the business as they already speak the language. When IT does this, they have to learn to speak business. For business units, I simply provide a few pointers on how and where to look for the value of integrated information and off they go. Step two is a bit more problematic: presenting the role that the data warehouse can play. This is where the business must learn to speak IT. Providing advice on how to do this gives me a chance to visit my favorite topic once again - adopting a conceptual architecture for technology. The conceptual architecture will position and describe the data warehouse and other components. It will highlight integration points for data. It will define administration requirements such as the CoE, quality management, program management and governance. And most important, it will provide common ground to both the business and IT; ground from which they can begin a joint education and exploration process; ground from which they can start the dialog on why to make the transition and where to start.

Last is the need to highlight and communicate the benefits a data warehouse and the CoE can bring to the technology group. Again, the business will be speaking IT here, so I’ll provide a few pointers on where to start. First, a CoE promotes reuse, which can bring both quantifiable cost savings and staff efficiencies to the IT group. Reuse can come in the form of standardizing on tools such as BI access or extract, transform and load tools. Elimination of duplicate licenses can save real dollars. Reuse can also come in the form of templates, standards and best practice documents. These can be reused from project to project, shortening the time to delivery, allowing for staff augmentation and providing the ability to refocus staff on value-add activities.

While the job of selling data warehouse and CoE benefits is very real, the steps are essentially the same whether IT is selling to the business or vice versa. The differences come in learning to step outside your comfort zone and in viewing the environments from the other group’s perspective.

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