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Data Warehouse Survival Kit: How to Keep the Warehouse in Troubling Times

  Article published in DM Review Magazine
April 2002 Issue
  By Cory Shouse

The current economic environment is unforgiving. Companies across all industries are finding profitability more and more elusive. While there are signs the economy is improving, it is likely that the turnaround will be slow. Alan Greenspan has indicated that the recovery will be "subdued," and corporate profit growth is expected to be in the single digits. It is no secret that selling more products and cutting costs is key to profitability. However, when consumers are hesitant to spend, companies are forced to spotlight cost-cutting to achieve desired results.

Management has many options when trying to find methods to save money. Some companies address the issue by eliminating applications. This usually translates into an analysis exercise. Managers evaluate each application by a set of criteria that may include ROI, operations impact, customer reliance or other factors. Consequently, application managers throughout the organization are competing to ensure their efforts and services are acknowledged. The data warehouse is caught in the middle.

Fear not. There is a way to increase your chances of keeping the data warehouse alive, even during the most challenging financial times. This data warehouse survival kit contains a list of recommendations for you and your team if you find your warehouse in the line of fire. This kit provides the tools to help you discover and articulate the value-add the warehouse provides. Companies are addressing the current economic environment by taking action; the data warehouse should demonstrate the same assertiveness for survival.

1. Be Competitive

Begin by embracing a competitive mind-set. Your data warehouse is the sole corporate source for consolidated, aggregated and non-volatile information. Nevertheless, this does not mean management views it as "essential." The data warehouse is a mature concept that at some companies must still compete with more visible applications -- such as customer relationship management (CRM), supply chain management and e-commerce -- for funding and resources. Recognize the competition and emphasize the strategic advantages of data warehousing.

2. Assess Service

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of the data warehouse. Create a survey to solicit information from your data warehouse users. Ask them to rate the timeliness, accuracy and breadth of services delivered by the data warehouse. Pay close attention to what your users are saying and highlight areas that need improvement. The strengths will provide support for the value-add the data warehouse provides.

3. Investigate Data Flow

You must understand the movement of data after it leaves your users' hands. Pinpoint who ultimately uses what data, where and when. Business users often combine data in a spreadsheet and add other data to create a "new" report. This report might be the source for major decisions about the strategic direction of the company. Ensure that the warehouse is receiving credit for these decisions by tracking and documenting the information flow.

4. Measure Performance

A service level agreement (SLA) is the most popular mechanism for gauging performance. It is the best way for both the warehouse and its users to measure expectations. In the book, Data Warehouse -- Practical Advice from the Experts, Joyce Bischoff and Ted Alexander outline five items that should be measured in the SLA:

  • Availability
  • Percentage target for system availability
  • Response time
  • Schedule for completion of batch jobs
  • Currency of data

Document the warehouse performance in each of these areas and emphasize areas that can be improved. Re-evaluate performance at frequent intervals and make any necessary adjustments. If customer expectations are being met, they can be a key voice of support in difficult times.

5. Become a Single Source

Collecting information from multiple sources -- documents, media files and even external sources of information -- can cause confusion and thereby impede the ability to make informed decisions.

In the last few years, the enterprise information portal (EIP) has emerged as the technological solution to this problem. The EIP integrates dissimilar types of information into a single interface for user access. Investigate the sources of information your users leverage to make decisions and identify how an EIP can make it easier to disseminate the information.

6. Observe the Business

Business users have been leveraging data warehouse information to manage every facet of the business. The strategies and best practices they are applying can similarly be applied to managing the data warehouse.

For example, an inventory manager is responsible for ensuring the right inventory is available at the right time. From a data warehouse perspective, why not establish an inventory manager to manage the content of the warehouse? He or she could be responsible for eliminating low-hit reports, identifying subsequent files to be sourced or working to identify the next subject area of interest. Keep an open mind and seek out the many correlations that exist.

7. Demonstrate Cost-Savings

Perhaps the strongest case for survival involves demonstrating savings for the company. Savings that can be realized through data warehousing include delivering reports via the Web (which eliminates the need for maintaining desktop versions) or even reducing delivery time by leveraging an ETL tool. These types of savings are important; however, real cost savings can be found by examining how the business is saving money with data warehouse information.

For example, the warehouse might provide information related to raw material sources. This drives an effort to consolidate manufacturing that ultimately reduces the number of plants operating. Acknowledgement of this type of cost-saving can solidify support for the warehouse.

8. Align Goals

Demonstrate that the data warehouse supports the company vision. For example, if your company is striving for a 10 percent increase in revenue from the services division, how is the warehouse supporting this initiative? Track the source systems, attributes and metrics required to measure service performance. Establish relationships with key players driving these objectives and react quickly when they begin to evolve.

9. Target Influential Users

One of the most prevalent metrics in any company is the "most profitable customers" metric. Management is partial to the needs and wants of the customers on this list and targets them with special rebates and promotions. Take note that these customers are not necessarily the ones who spend the most money, but rather have the biggest impact on the bottom line.

In the same way your company finds and targets its most profitable customers, the needs of the most influential decision-makers within the organization should be addressed. Offer services to persons at all levels of the organization. However, remember that in tough times, support is most critical at the strategic and tactical levels.

10. Market the Data Warehouse

The value the data warehouse brings and the service it provides are not always understood. Perhaps some are of the opinion that the data warehouse only provides reports or that the information it provides can be pulled from an alternate source such as a data mart or even an operational system. Additionally, the spiral life cycle for ongoing data warehouse development may cause some to believe that the data warehouse project has infinite overhead.

Simple marketing can help. Once the benefits have been identified, it is time to package them into polished marketing material. Develop a road show or sponsor a brown-bag lunch to demonstrate the data warehouse processes that result in the delivery of "reports" to users. Educate management on the influence the data warehouse is having on each aspect of the business. Articulate the data warehouse team's vision for working smarter and supporting the goals of the company.

Survival in the corporate world is never guaranteed. Collecting the information to build a strong case for the data warehouse and educating management on its benefits are keys to increasing your survival odds. Even in prosperous times, management can evaluate and eliminate applications based on their perceived value. Therefore, do not just read this list now. Also review it when times are good. As John F. Kennedy once said, "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
DW Basics.

Cory Shouse is a senior architect with Conversion Services International. With more than 10 years experience in business intelligence, Shouse specializes in helping companies establish, organize and deliver value to the business. He has assisted a number of Fortune 500 companies define quality assurance programs, organizational and staffing plans, change control procedures, and appropriate information and technical architectures. He can be reached at (469) 939-5385 or cshouse@csiwhq.com.

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