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High Performance Marketing:
Business Intelligence Success Through Reduced Reporting Applications

online columnist Steve Schultz     Column published in DMReview.com
June 9, 2005
  By Steve Schultz

Steve Schultz thanks Debra Markham, Marketing Solutions Director for Quaero, for contributing this month's column.

Are you responsible for reporting applications and services that transform raw data into intelligent marketing information? Do you generally get the results you hope for that increase productivity and speed in solving your marketing challenges? Did you receive the accolades you felt entitled to for capitalizing on the right business opportunities at the right time? If you can answer yes to all of these questions - congratulations! However, if the answer is no, then perhaps you need to examine the very real possibility of what may be the existence of multiple spreadmarts that mask themselves as reporting applications across your organization. It is critical that you conduct an honest assessment in order to ensure that your business intelligence efforts will achieve the type of stellar success you are counting on.

What is a Spreadmart?

The availability of powerful spreadsheet capabilities and impending deadlines have, in recent years, created an explosion of spreadmarts across the corporate landscape. In both centralized and decentralized marketing departments, many marketing professionals are scrambling to identify the source system of record, collect and then integrate their data to track key statistics or planning activities. The pressure of tight schedules and time constraints to meet campaign deadlines ensure that spreadmarts are born. Multiples of them pop up - and once they exist - they often take on a life of their own.

"Spreadsheets make it too easy for groups to define their own metrics and collect data from different sources at different levels of granularity at different times,"notes The Data Warehouse Institutes Director of Education and Research, Wayne Eckerson. "Thus, each spreadsheet represents a unique view of the organization, an independent data mart - or 'spreadmart' if you will - whose data cannot be reconciled with other spreadmarts."1

Given that spreadmarts can occur in just about any department within an organization, let's focus on the marketing department and take a closer look at a typical spreadmart.

You may know them as the quarterly marketing campaigns, marketing dashboards, lead generation reports and any of the myriad of other sales and marketing activities that are monitored. They often exist in elaborate spreadsheets or desktop database applications that have their very own backup schedules and occasionally a level of security built for their protection. They help to ensure that those coveted bonus plans are met and are often counted as a corporate family jewel. Yes, they are spreadmarts! They proliferate across many marketing organizations, and they can break the back of your newly approved business intelligence application if left unchecked.

Generally spreadmarts are created separately and have been built with no regard to standardization across them. They often end up impeding the overall marketing objectives due to one group considering their results 'more accurate' than its peers'. You may end up with multiple versions of the truth in your department or across the company. The data may not always be accurate and trustworthy because of the discretionary ways it is acquired.

What can be done? Should you run for the hills or worse yet - scrap the idea that you'll ever be able to attain the type of business intelligence that you so desperately want? No! Don't pack your bags. There are some solutions.

We will examine some key activities that are on the critical path to ensure your development effort is successful. They will help to ensure that you do receive those much-deserved accolades when your new business intelligence application goes live.

Marketing Business Intelligence Communication Plan

The objectives and vision of the newly funded business intelligence application should be communicated with both a sense of excitement and an unwavering commitment. Your message should convey a clear vision with regard to the value that will be realized by the organization. A well-heeled communication plan should be developed to ensure frequent and concise information be delivered to the current marketing users and possibly across the organization during the development cycle.

The organization should be confident that their differing needs will be met when the spreadmarts are replaced. The need for operational reporting, the more interactive requirements of campaign management and query and analysis, along with the new capabilities such as summary dashboards for reviewing effective interactions across channels, time, and purpose or cost verses time to market verses results measurements will help to ensure your constituents that they do indeed have bright prospects with the new business intelligence platform.

Inventory the Spreadmarts

Start by calling a spade a spade. A spreadmart is generally a spreadsheet or a desktop database application on steroids.

Identify the spreadmarts or reporting applications as they are known by their current owners. An explanation and a clear definition should be associated with each existing reporting application at this time. Some may gasp in denial that they have assisted in the proliferation of the spreadmarts. Though for many - the spreadmart is the basis of how they formulate their own identity within the marketing group, yes even within the enterprise. Be sensitive, however, be firm and reassure them that you are invested in the success of the new business intelligence platform as well as their professional success. Have no doubt - you will have some resistance. This is where the men and women are separated from the boys and girls. Rely upon the executive approval you have attained and the well-spent time and effort that have gone into creating your communication plan to help affirm your commitments.

Decompose the Spreadmarts

You have identified 20 separate spreadmarts and 10 of them support mission-critical campaigns across multiple marketing channels. It is now time to decompose the spreadmarts. This can be done in a series of facilitated meetings to ensure that all source systems are identified along with the processing algorithms and output from the reporting application. Now is a good time to ensure that your objectives for the new business intelligence platform align with the output from the spreadmarts. The business analyst should be front and center during this work. They are the experts and should be treated accordingly.

It is important to discuss all the moving pieces and the various facilitation techniques that can be employed during the sessions to ensure a positive outcome. The output from these sessions should include a storyboard or some communication tool that affirms the captured requirements. This should help to reduce the fear and anxiety that the business analysts may have by giving her a chance to review and to correct any misinformation.

Future Roles and Responsibilities

It is critical that the business analyst's current responsibilities are reviewed. The business analyst will have an increased ability to work more intuitively to get the answers that may have been previously maintained across several spreadmarts with the new business intelligence application. They will benefit because they will be better equipped to leverage their positions as knowledge workers in producing more timely marketing analysis that may improve job satisfaction and most certainly benefit the bottom line.

In addition, another tactic to ensure the BI initiative is successful is to identify a champion(s) among the current marketing users. The champion(s) should be charged with primary responsibility of establishing post-implementation milestones that their personal performance will be measured against - for example 50 percent reduction of auditing time and risk through automated content compliance review and approvals or 75 percent compliance with the use of marketing content management to store, track and manage marketing assets.

Be assured there is no silver bullet. However, execution of these activities will put you well ahead of the curve. Ensure you have clear measurement criteria and hold your internal user groups, consultants and integrators accountable. The bar should be raised during these critical planning and development stages - don't succumb to the grumble and groans.

A successful BI deployment will deliver a greater understanding of the Why behind results, which in turn will drive better decisions. The long-term success and benefit to your bottom line will prove it all worth your time and effort.

1. Eckerson, Wayne. "Taming the Spreadsheet Jockey." TDWI Publication: Case Studies and Solutions. July 8, 2004.

Debra Markham is Marketing Solutions Director for Quaero. You can reach her at markham@quaero.com


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence (BI), Database Marketing and Query & Reporting.

Steve Schultz is a leading customer relationship management (CRM) practitioner who combines an understanding of information technology with extensive business process design experience and information-based decision-making methodologies. As executive VP of Client Services for Quaero (www.quaero.com), he helps clients identify, justify, implement and leverage leading edge analytical CRM environments to create or/and improve their database marketing capabilities. Schultz has worked with companies in the financial services, telecommunications, retail, publishing and hospitality industries. Contact him at schultzs@quaero.com.

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