A lot of my friends who are consultants in the data warehousing space are depressed. They say they aren't having fun anymore. They complain that data warehousing just isn't what it used to be. You see, a few years ago when data warehousing was brand new, these consultants got called into accounts by the vice president of marketing or sales, perhaps the CFO or maybe even the CEO. These engagements were interesting because the data warehouse was intended to provide the client company a competitive advantage in the marketplace. In short, the data warehouse was a strategic endeavor and, by extension, my consultant friends were strategic assets.

Today, many of these same consultants say the nature of their engagements has changed significantly. The consultants are now recruited by information technology managers who need help selecting a business intelligence tool, cleaning up a complex data model, tuning queries or load routines or sizing a data warehousing platform. In short, these engagements are more tactical in nature, focusing on tactical issues, not strategic ones.

So what's going on here? The simple answer is that the data warehousing market has changed dramatically in the past three years. All signs indicate that the market has moved from an early adopter phase to a mainstream one. This has had a significant impact on the nature and design of new data warehousing projects and the type of consulting assistance companies require.

The hallmark of early technology adopters is that they think and act strategically. They seek to differentiate their companies in the marketplace by leveraging bleeding-edge information technologies for competitive advantage. In contrast, mainstream IT users focus more on tactical issues. They seek incremental improvement to existing business processes. They believe in evolution, not revolution.

It's no surprise that consultants who once reveled in the strategic nature of their assignments may be a bit bored by their current spate of tactical assignments. So what's a bored consultant to do?

First, both consultants and users need to recognize that every data warehouse needs to have a strategic focus. Without such a focus, a company is building solutions for technology's sake, not business benefit. Every consultant needs to ask prospective clients, "What are the mission, goals and objectives driving your company, and by extension, your division, department or functional area?" And then, "How does this project further that mission and help achieve stated objectives?"

Once a project is tied to the company's overarching business strategy, the so-called tactical and technical work assumes much greater importance. This positioning helps clarify the goals and objectives of the data warehousing project and keeps it from eventually getting buried in conflicting user requirements and desires.

It's also important to remember that each psychographic segment of the market (i.e., early adopter, early majority, etc.) has a different set of technical challenges that it is currently dealing with. Knowing these challenges ahead of time can also help steer a project in a more strategic direction.

For example, many early adopters now have huge data warehouses of a terabyte or more. These companies need to figure out how to manage large, complex data warehousing installations which are becoming increasingly critical to their company's operations. Key issues are: How do you maintain adequate performance with hundreds or thousands of geographically dispersed users, terabytes of data and 24x7 availability requirements? How can you leverage a data warehouse to present a single view of each customer that can then be tapped into in real time by dozens of internal and customer-facing applications? And so on.

In contrast, the second wave of data warehousing users (the early majority) built data marts instead of data warehouses. These users now need advice about how to backfill a data warehouse or enterprise infrastructure behind multiple, non-integrated data marts. These companies also need help trying to create a consolidated meta data repository that reconciles divergent definitions of data and business rules employed within various independent data marts.

The last wave of data warehouse adopters ­ those who are getting into the market now ­ prefer to buy solutions rather than technologies. And the more packaged the solution, the better! These folks need help selecting analytic applications, retrofitting them to their business processes and integrating them with their applications, data and systems infrastructure.

It's clear that data warehouses are no longer the strategic "end-game" as they were a few years ago. They are part of a larger strategic solution for integrating people, processes and information into a seamless supply chain of information, knowledge, services and products. The real strategy is figuring out how a company should blend its major information sources ­ data warehouses, packaged front- and back-office applications, document systems and e-commerce initiatives ­ into a coherent whole.

Fortunately, a data warehouse is the nexus for these converging technologies and business strategies. Consultants who help clients understand and stay focused on the larger business and technology issues will be valuable resources. They'll be able to turn tactical projects into strategic ones and bring the "fun" back into data warehousing.

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