4 Steps to Improve Adoption and Use of Your Data Warehouse

By Shikha Verma and Lorri Wallace, Central Garden & Pet

With the basic premise of "build it and they will come," marketing and communication are the last things on the minds of data warehouse and business intelligence (DW/BI) leaders. We spend much time focusing on the data, technical architectures, and processes that enable better data quality, but we have treated internal marketing and communications as a stepchild.

As leaders and proponents of data warehousing and business intelligence, we strongly believe that we have a great product that users don't get -- and it's their problem that they don't. In this article, we will explain how proper marketing and a consistent communication stream can help business users understand the benefits of data warehousing and business intelligence and help you turn your DW/BI program from a dud to a success.

The Problem Isn't Your Users

You've no doubt heard business users say, "I don't understand what you guys do; it sounds very geeky." You've heard your colleagues claim that "marketing and proactive communication are essential when you are trying to sell something to a customer, but marketing for internal data warehouses and business intelligence solutions is ridiculous."

We've heard such comments, too. Some of these comments occurred when we introduced a consistent, proactive marketing and communication program that explained what our team does and how what we do helps others. Our team felt that we had the company's best kept secret: we were the data hub for all business transactions our company made, all details of our workforce, all details of our customers and products, and all details of which customers could be doing more business with us. What more could company leaders need to make the right decisions?

Unfortunately, that message never resonated. Business users didn't understand what a data hub was nor the benefits the hub provided to our company as a whole or to their job specifically. Usage of our data warehouse was low. We had the best tech minds that could create the most useful reports and analytics, but driving usage and adoption was hard.

Data was suspect; nobody trusted it. As a result, people did what people do when they have a data problem -- they blamed their problems on IT, claiming that the tools were too difficult to use. They basically swept the problems with the data under the rug and created their own data solutions. Data silos multiplied. Such data problems never go away -- unless you tackle them head-on, but that requires major coordination and trust between business and IT. A key enabler is transparent, consistent communication, even some internal selling and marketing.

There are four essential steps for internal marketing and communication of your data warehouse and business intelligence initiatives. Following these steps and establishing key partnerships with the user community helped our user base grow from fewer than 1,000 users to over 10,000 users in a high tech company,

Step #1: Create an internal Web site

Invest in creating an internal Web site for your team. Use it to describe the DW/BI capabilities you offer and provide up-to-date details of your projects. Think of this Web site as your front-door -- make it simple and uncluttered. The extent of detail you include depends on your industry; if you work in high-tech, your audience is likely technically savvy, so you can include more technical details. For non-tech industries, keep your Web site simple and tech-free. Technical details are important, but take the time to explain your projects and benefits in terms your main audience can identify with.

Be sure to include a simple picture of your DW architecture that discusses your data sources and share details about data freshness and how it impacts your audience. Include details about your front-end BI toolset (if you have multiple options, segregate them by user role) and include details about training opportunities (such as a training schedule and links to class registration).

Keep your Web site fresh and interesting by including pictures and external material so that it becomes a learning platform for your team and your user community.

Finally, promote your Web site wherever and whenever possible. For example, put a link in your e-mail signature as well as in any newsletter articles. By referencing your Web site in multiple venues and including the URL in frequently requested items (such as training materials), your audience will become accustomed to visiting often.

Step #2: Provide regular news to your stakeholders

Invest in staff members or freelancers who can write interesting, business-focused content. Creating material for your Web site doesn't need to be a full-time job; for example, business analysts can do this if they have a bit of marketing flair, or take on the task yourself.

Make regular stakeholder communication a must for your team. Create a consistent flow of information that is available to the entire organization -- be it an executive update e-mail, stakeholder newsletters, training bulletins, or town hall meetings. Focus on educating your user base about new analytics capabilities; share key analytics across business functions. Explain why data quality is important and the positive impact your efforts are having on the organization's progress.

Consider providing your users (and potential users) with readily available information about upcoming, scheduled, or ongoing system events such as software upgrades or system patches. Provide updates when unanticipated system events occur. Users will appreciate the information and reduce the time spent answering help desk calls about system status.

Step #3: Create an interactive community

If you have a BI competency center (BICC) or BI center of excellence (BICOE) in your organization, you likely already have a tight-knit user community that interacts with each other and helps solve the group's analytics problems.

If you don't have a BICC or BICOE, and your company is large (say, over 2,000 employees), consider launching one or create a user group with representatives from all business functions and data subject areas. Creating this community will pay you back because members will act as an extended team and will become your first line of support on data issues or analysis questions over time.

Enlist and groom your extended team by providing them proactive communication about upcoming events that may impact their user community. This will gain their continued participation by being "in the know."

Step #4: Pamper your fans and give them the spotlight

If you are doing your job properly, you will have a few enthusiastic fans that can serve as evangelists for your projects and services. If you are doing your job well, you will have many of them. Make sure to pamper them and give them the stage and the spotlight in all your communication platforms (newsletters, Web site, town hall meetings, etc.). This will help you create more fans and your message will progress further in the organization without much effort on your part.

Closing Thoughts

Following these four steps will help your BI/DW usage and adoption grow. In the data and analytics world, packaging matters more than you may think. There is no way around collaboration and community-based problem solving in the analytics world.

Just as the same dataset can be cut many ways to give you the insights you are looking for, your marketing and communications will be used in many different ways because a tight-knit consumer community practically runs the show for you, if you are transparent and consistent in your marketing and communications with them.

Shikha Verma has over 15 years of experience leading and implementing DW/BI solutions. She has enabled significant DW/BI capabilities across several industries -- financial services, healthcare, technology, entertainment and consumer products -- including business strategy and funding, program execution, and operations. She is currently leading the data and analytics transformation at Central Garden & Pet, maker of quality branded products for consumer and professional use in the lawn and garden and pet supplies markets. You can contact the author at sverma@central.com.

Lorri Wallace has over 10 years of experience developing and implementing business intelligence solutions. She has led DW/BI development, operations, and communications efforts for multiple companies and currently leads the agile analytics development team and communications as part of the data and analytics transformation at Central Garden & Pet. You can contact the author at lwallace@central.com.