Many companies began building data warehouses 10 or more years ago. These companies have established best practices for building, deploying, managing and growing data warehouse (DW) and business intelligence (BI) applications. Most of these organizations with "mature" data warehousing environments have much to teach us about the "dos" and "don'ts" of data warehousing. This column discusses two of the "don'ts."
Mistake #1: No Active Participation by Key Business Experts: Many data warehousing professionals understand the need to keep the business community involved in their DW programs. Unfortunately, few implement programs to engage business subject-matter experts, and few adhere to such programs in practice.
If you fail to keep business constituents involved, the business side of your team can lose touch with the project or be unprepared or unwilling to accept their share of the responsibility for the data warehouse.
A data stewardship program is one way to involve the business community in the DW.
Effective stewardship appointment must be balanced in terms of the number of stewards and defining the areas of responsibility. Generally, appointment at the business subject-area level strikes the best balance, providing a data steward for each element in the DW. Data stewardship involves:
Arbitrating the transformation rules. The DW usually integrates data from disparate sources. Arbitrating differences of opinion and different interpretations about how data should be represented, the data steward, in partnership with IT, can settle data representation issues (and hence transformation rules).
Verifying the data after load. Verification involves confirming that data was loaded and transformation rules were properly applied, which is crucial when operational systems are prone to change structure and content.
Contribution of the business meta data. Data stewards contribute business components (such as business definition), and IT contributes the technical components (such as data sources and transformation rules) to the meta data. The data steward can phrase the business meta data in terms of business importance.
Approving new users. The data steward can broker requests for new usage of the DW. Developing expertise in the data as well as the workload limitations of the DW system, the data steward can effectively approve new users and their authority levels and assign new groups of users appropriate access levels.
Supporting the user community on the data. The data steward takes the lead in user training, with more of a business than technical focus. The steward should be made responsible for the majority of the user training and support topics on a perpetual basis. User support can consist of training classes and ongoing phone (help-desk style) support to the user community focused on how to functionally use the query tools and the data. The most effective arrangement is a partnership where IT is responsible for the query tools and the data steward is responsible for the data.
Participation on a corporate governance committee. Once your DW is implemented, there will be interest in major additions of usage, subject areas and data sources. A corporate governance committee is an effective way to allocate and prioritize the limited financial and staffing resources for data warehouse projects. The committee reviews requests for new subject areas, data sources and business problems solved, as well as new expenditures for processors and storage.
From design through implementation, no phase should be attempted without the business' commitment. A data stewardship program actively and thoroughly assigns specific responsibilities with clear outcomes across the six functions.
Mistake #2: Failure to Promote the Data Warehousing Program: A large part of a successful BI program is bringing the program to the user community and reminding its members what data is available, how data is currently used, what the current data sources are and what additions are planned. BI is most valuable when the user community unearths new uses and benefits for data already prepared for consumption in the BI environment. A DW public relations program is multifaceted and allows the leadership to take the program into multiple directions that fit the culture of the organization and the team.
Unique nicknames for DW programs help to establish corporate identity and stability, and an intranet page is useful for distributing information (such as what data is available, processes for access and support options) to the entire organization. It can also be a great platform for user questions, answering the questions online and archiving them for later reference.
A mature program can also use e-mail and voice mail to communicate with users on a regular basis. An e-mail newsletter reinforces critical program messages. These tools can also be used to notify the user community of scheduled and unscheduled outages.
These mistakes are excerpted from the Third Quarter 2003 Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) publication, "Ten Mistakes to Avoid for Mature Data Warehouses" by William McKnight. The entire publication is available to TDWI members at: http://www.tdwi.org/research/display.asp?id=5000.
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