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Is your organization ready for data warehousing?

While many organizations talk about data warehousing, few are really ready for the its promise.

An old joke goes something like "How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb must be willing to change."

One of the hardest questions to answer is "Are you ready?" While many organizations talk about data warehousing, few are really ready for the its promise. Most of the problems are not technical in nature--they are organizational. How do you change the mindset of an organization unless the organization is ready to change?

There are two areas where this issue rears its ugly head (and not mine!). The first is when you are trying to "sell" the idea and the second is building the warehouse itself.

Selling the Data Warehouse

Great care needs to be made when selling the idea of a data warehouse. There is a tendency to oversell the concept. The data warehouse will not allow management to make better decisions. If the management is great at making bad decisions, the data warehouse will provide information faster for them to continue to make decisions, regardless of whether those decisions are bad or good!

For data warehouses to be successful, I believe that there must be commitment from senior management. Without this data warehousing champion, one could question whether the organization is ready. Does your CFO ask "What is the fist year return on investment in tangible terms?" but is unwilling to look at the possibilities of a 5-year return without much return in the first couple of years? Does the CEO not see the value of understanding purchase patterns and how that might change the way that your organization will do business in the future? Or does he or she think the same old way of doing business will continue to suffice? If so, I believe it will be hard to "sell" the concept of the data warehouse. However, you must continue to work with the executives to have them understand the power of the data warehouse and all the benefits (tangible and intangible) that can come from building one.

Building the Data Warehouse

The data warehouse is not a "If you build it, they will come" idea, although many believe that it is. Building the data warehouse is a time-consuming process. You need commitment from the business community to provide the required input during the development process. You can build small parts within a 6-month window, but learning to use the data warehouse for other than "confirming what I thought" will take a major change in the organization. The organization will need to change to promote a "culture of analysis". David Lassiter (a friend of mine who works in this field and whom I call "Mr. Touchy-Feely") has told me many times that change doesn't happen over night. Again, commitment from the senior management is critical. The success of the data warehouse comes from using the information as a strategic weapon by quickly determining trends (true trends, not false trends!) and adjusting the business to those trends.

It all boils down to: Are you ready? Does your organization see the value of having good data at their fingertips? Does your organization understand that the value of the data warehouse is sometimes intangible? Is your organization ready to put the processes into place that might (will) cause great strain on the organization, as it evolves a new way of doing business? If not, maybe your organization is not ready. No organization wants to hear that, but reality must set in.

We can build the data warehouse, but they might not come. If senior management doesn't strongly want change, then perhaps your company may not be ready. Continue to work with your organization to enlighten them, and over time they may become ready, willing, and able to change.

About the Author

Chuck Kelley is president and founder of Excellence In Data, Inc. and an internationally known expert in database technology. He has more than 20 years of experience in designing and implementing operational/production systems and data warehouses. Kelley has worked in some facet of the design and implementation phase of more than 35 data warehouses and data marts. He also teaches seminars, co-authored a book with W. H. Inmon on data warehousing and has been published in many trade magazines on database technology, data warehousing and enterprise data strategies. Please feel free to email him at chuckkelley@usa.net with comments (negative or positive) about this column or ideas for future columns.

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