June 14, 2013 in data warehouse consulting
Solutions and advice 1 – what is the purpose of a data warehouse?
“What is the purpose of a data warehouse?” is the first in a set of articles designed to help resolve the potential problems (risk areas) when implementing a data warehouse project.
So far, we’ve published 3 articles that, in our opinion, highlight the most common reasons for data warehouse project failures.
- Why data warehouse projects fail – purpose and black ops behaviour
- Why data warehouse projects fail – communication and complexity
- Why data warehouse projects fail – blind faith, data, resources
The areas we highlight for potential failure are:
- The lack of an agreed and supported purpose.
- The inability of an organisation’s management structure, reporting structure and cultural values to control “black ops” behaviour.
- Lack of communication and idea sharing.
- A project that is: too complicated to easily understand, over sized or over ambitious.
- Trying to do everything at once with a huge team rather than starting small and growing.
- A blind faith in technology as a cure all to business challenges.
- Data issues regarding identifying what’s important and how to manage it.
- Resource management and control
[as stated in previous articles, the term data warehouse covers both data warehouse and business intelligence solutions]
The question asked, what is the purpose of a data warehouse?, is not a high-level or generic question. What is the purpose of a data warehouse? is a question that only you can answer.
A generic answer to what is the purpose of a data warehouse?”
A data warehouse is nothing more than a news concentrator, except the news takes the form of newsworthy business events that are important to your organisation.
When you have all your organisation’s newsworthy business events in one place you can:
- check the state of your organisation today (Where are we?)
- study current trends (Where are we going?)
- perform historical analyses (Where have we been?)
- investigate who or what was impacted (Where are our successes, risk areas and exposures?)
- find out what currently lacking needs are not being fulfilled by your organisation (What are we not doing now that we should be doing?)
To summarise these into business terms we get:
- Actual (Where are we?)
- Future (Where are we going?)
- Historical (Where have we been?)
- Risk (Where are our successes, risk areas and exposures?)
- Gap (What are we not doing now that we should be doing?)
- What if?
The final point “what if?” uses a mix of all the available data that can enable predictions. For example: the effect of potential future price changes, risk forecasts due to potential human conflicts (elections, wars, instability, …), etc.
A specific answer to “what is the purpose of a data warehouse?”
The only person that can answer “what is the purpose of a data warehouse?” in the specific details that relate to your business is you. We cannot answer your question as it is specific to the needs of your business. Your purpose should include at least one of the previously mentioned bullet points.
The purpose should be driven by a business need and not by a technology need.
The purpose that you define must be:
If the purpose statement doesn’t meet these criteria it is open to criticism and probably won’t make it past the executive budget allocation committee.
The purpose should be agreed by a small group of experts (hereafter known as the “owners”) who are empowered to make strategic decisions. There is no magic figure for the number of owners involved but the more people involved the slower and more complicated it becomes to reach agreement and consensus. A frequently suggested number is between six and eight people.
The owners will be the primary source of influence and arbitration when the project goes ahead. The owners should have senior executive positions. The purpose must be published, publicly embraced and promoted by the owners. The owners must show a united face and never show disunity in public.
The impact of data warehouse projects is usually enterprise wide so the project will have a political element. The degree of politics required depends on your organisation but the owners must exhibit the political behaviour of loyal cabinet ministers. Disagree in private and agree in public.
The purpose must be the business benchmark against which the project is measured and conflicts are judged.
In other words it’s a type of constitution and as happens with all constitutions it can be amended, but only by the owners.
The purpose is not created to dictate, it is there to keep people focused on the finish line and at the same time retain flexibility through a controlled change management procedure.
If you don’t have this type of purpose, executive support and change management control, you will have serious problems.
So, what is the purpose of a data warehouse? It’s there to keep your dreams and ambitions alive. It’s there to stop you failing.
Over the top emotive statement? I don’t think so because all of us, from the CEO down, have dreams, ambitions and don’t like to fail.
To sum up
- A purpose should be business driven and not technology driven
- A purpose must be crystal clear, unambiguous and have consensual agreement
- A purpose should be drawn up by executive level, strategic decision making staff (the owners)
- A purpose must be the business benchmark for the project against which success is measured
- A purpose can only be amended via a change management procedure under the owners control
- A purpose must have the full and unwavering public support of the owners
From a personal perspective, the last bullet is the most important. Even if all the bullets before the last one are met, if the owners show any sign of weakness in public regarding their support for the purpose, cracks will appear and the project will at some point fall apart. As the saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down.”
The purpose is allowed to be ambitious (within reason dicated by common sense). If the purpose is ambitious, it must be implemented in phases that are both understandable and manageable. We’ll be addressing “understandable and manageable” in a forthcoming article.
A little background
You may ask, “what does the author know about project purposes?” I worked in IT for many years and over the last 15 years I specialised in data warehouse projects. I started DWM a couple of months ago and I’m also an executive of EBC, an international training organisation specialising in train the trainer (teacher training) and language training (over 11,000 e-learning students). EBC was a start-up in 2002. I started with an idea, defined its purpose and I’ve grown it into what is now a multinational SME. I’ve risked my house on making it work. EBC was a start-up so I had to define its purpose along with a business plan and all the other good stuff that banks need when you have to justify financing. In short, I’ve not only had a lot of data warehouse project experience putting a project’s purpose together to spend someone else’s money but also personal experience doing the same and risking my own money.
Published by www.datawarehousemanager.com