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Business Intelligence:
Greasing the Skids: Creating a Vision

  Column published in DM Review Magazine
March 2000 Issue
  By Susan Osterfelt

Is your organization kicking off a new data mart project? Developing an operational data store or an exploration warehouse? Or maybe you're planning to rearchitect your data warehouse environment to provide more seamless and consistent data flow? Are you initiating that long-awaited project to capture and verify meta data? Or creating a business intelligence architecture to match user tools to different business information access needs? No matter what the project to improve your company's information environment, there is a critical factor that will play heavily in its success and overcome the negative view of change held by all people involved in it. There is a way to grease the skids.

What does greasing the skids mean? Webster defines skid as "a plank, log, etc., used as a track upon which to slide a heavy object." Greasing the skids means lubricating that track so that the objects move more easily toward their destination. So, while people may provide resistance to your project or initiative, there is something you can do that can make things go easier, with less resistance.

No, it's not related to knowledge of tools, technologies and processes to get the job done (although, admittedly, tools and technologies also play heavily in a project's success). It's something that needs to happen before you ever worry about how data will be extracted, analyzed and translated. Before those business intelligence tools are evaluated and purchased. Before that meta data repository is populated. What is it?

It involves creating a vision for how things will be different in the future. If you want to rally people's support around your initiative, you must get their attention. The best way to get their attention is to tell them (even better to show them!) how things will change. Whether it's extract programmers, warehouse/mart support staff, end users or managers on the business or technical side, they each will ask: What's in it for me? What will be different about the new environment? Why is this important? How does what we're doing fit in with the organization's long-term strategic goals? How will my work be affected? While it can be very helpful just to describe to them the vision of what will be different, it can be far more effective to show them with a prototype, pilot or demo.

I have seen this approach work time and time again. In a project to create a multidimensional data mart, people can be made to understand, through a demo, not just broad concepts about improved data access, but specifically how access through a multidimensional, online analytical processing tool can help them rely less on printed reports and more on online decision support processes (i.e., slicing and dicing, drill down, etc.). They begin to understand. They say, "Oh, now I get it!" In a meta data project, for example, don't just tell them they will now have access to data attribute definitions and formats. Take an example of something they do in their job today (create a program or a query, for example) and show them a prototype of how having meta data easily accessible makes their task easier. If you're re-architecting the warehouse environment, tell (or preferably, show) people what the end result of the new architecture will be. Will there be a better separation between operational and decision support data? How will that separation manifest itself in improved business processes? Will extracts run quicker, making information available sooner? Will marts be easier to modify, enabling faster turnaround time on user requests?

It takes the creation and communication of a vision of things to come to accomplish this understanding. It takes putting yourself in the shoes of everyone involved in the information "process" to develop that vision and make it business-relevant. It takes creating a prototype that answers real, not perceived, problems. It takes making that vision/prototype realistic and not "over-selling" it.

Can you achieve success with your information project without creating a vision of things to come for those involved? Possibly. But with a vision that is communicated and understood, there is more active participation. Instead of digging their heels in and providing resistance, people buy in to the process, helping to achieve it and looking forward to its completion.

Creating a vision can indeed grease the skids, making any information project go more smoothly.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence.

Susan Osterfelt is senior vice president at Bank of America, in Charlotte, North Carolina. She can be reached at susan.osterfelt@bankofamerica.com.

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