Basic principles for datwarehouse success

Break projects down and involve users from all parts of the business

Break projects down and involve users from all parts of the business.

The stark truth about datawarehousing projects is that some of them fail and most are painful to implement. But recognising some basic principles and setting up a deliberate process can help to minimise the suffering and keep projects on track.

By breaking a datawarehousing project into phases and planning for ongoing enhancements, a business working group can establish requirements that allow datawarehousing projects to evolve in a repeatable way and ultimately enable end-users to make better business decisions.

Some fundamental principles and processes can help datawarehousing projects thrive. Successful datawarehousing projects never finish. The only ones that truly end are those that fail or are replaced.

Datawarehousing is a commitment to provide for the future. Providing for the present is just a necessary by-product.

In a sense, datawarehousing projects are not projects at all; they involve a number of fairly long, expensive IT project phases and a perpetual series of enhancements. This is why breaking the effort into phases, and controlling the scope of each phase, is so important.

Datawarehouses are compromises - all project requirements must be grounded through a partnership with the business. That means conflicting interests from different business units have to be balanced. If you are making a big decision and think you have made a perfect, easy choice, you have probably made the wrong choice with too few people at the table. Think of the business unit that you least like to deal with and make sure its representatives participate regularly.

Recruit an executive sponsor. When a senior executive (other than the CIO) acts as the ultimate sponsor of the project, it provides a signal to the rest of the business that the datawarehousing effort is important.

The executive runs offence and defence, ensuring that adequate funding is available and discouraging other parts of the business from implementing one-off solutions that either duplicate or subvert the efforts of the project.

Convene a business working group: the perception of business ownership translates into higher rates of ongoing user adoption, so a working group led by the business with IT participants needs to meet regularly to control scope and approve high-level technical decisions.

Its business members should be managers from different business units, perhaps supplemented with users of the warehouse. Its IT members should be project leaders and technical managers.

Be careful of "crusaders", the business users who are seen as the project's biggest advocates. Make no mistake, their energy is crucial to keep the project team motivated, and they might be able to specify a significant fraction of the project's requirements on their own.

However, these users usually represent only one segment of the business. When they start to drive all the requirements, others may not feel able to speak out. The answer is to maintain a level playing field. Getting started on the right track with all users concerned requires a lot of organisation, but it will pay off.

Nigel Montgomery is director of European research at analyst company AMR

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