TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Where Their World Begins to Change

The most appreciated BI teams don't just start turning things upside down. They prepare their customers for the efficiency and transparency that are about to change their world.

The most effective and appreciated BI teams don't just start turning things upside down. They prepare their customers to have their world favorably rocked by efficiency and transparency -- two benefits that can cause unnecessary trouble if they come without warning.

The World They Knew

Department managers at an international resort chain submitted key measures of their operational effectiveness to their VP once a week. Reporting was scheduled for 10 a.m. on Tuesdays to allow the managers to gather data by Friday and then prepare reasonably accurate information.

The managers spent at least 20 percent of their working hours on the reports. When a C-level executive committee wanted access on demand to all operational effectiveness measures throughout the organization, a BI program was initiated that included data warehousing and master data management.

At the executive level, the decision came without a fight. How could that happen? It happened because the BI team first explained the future -- the points at which the company's world was about to change.

Anticipating the Benefits of Efficiency

The BI team explained in bi-weekly meetings with stakeholders that virtually all the hours managers were spending on data collection and analysis would soon be freed up. The numbers were enlightening: 100 department managers x 8 hours = 800 companywide hours available for normal operations!

Upper management had a feeling that millions of dollars were probably being wasted under the current system, but they didn't discuss it openly for fear of making themselves look inefficient.

Under the new system, measures of any given business day would soon be available by morning the next business day. No more stale information. Managers were asked to consider in advance how they might use their time in ways that demonstrated their increased value to the company. When their world began to change, they were ready.

Empowered by having information they wanted, when and how they wanted it, the managers' creative juices began flowing. They decided to measure the results of implementing new practices and procedures that time and risk had previously made unfeasible. The managers proved their value by making improvements only they could make.

Anticipating the Benefits of Transparency

An executive team at another large enterprise was accustomed to receiving multi-site reports that were impossible to reconcile. They had learned to live with a lengthy recalculation and reconciliation process every month. The idea of being able to trust the numbers delivered to them was nearly unthinkable.

By the time the executives could validate the accuracy of the monthly measures of their organization's productivity, they often found that they had missed opportunities to improve results. Knowing only that they wanted better access to their data, the executive team directed IT to implement a BI program to give them on-demand access to the key measures of their business.

In this case, the BI implementation team did not prepare their executive sponsors for the changes to come. Transparency would be unnecessarily painful if it came as a shocking surprise -- and it did.

The program produced accurate measures that were easy to reconcile across all operational sources. Faced with rock-solid numbers, the executive team was immediately seeing through clear lenses instead of frosted glass and what they saw floored them. They noticed that some of their managers had been reporting numbers based on alternate realities.

In a few cases, the discrepancies were so severe that the executives were uncertain about how to proceed. Disciplinary action seemed appropriate, but so did dismissal; or was the problem systemic?

The uncertainty led to very disturbing conversations with department managers. The stress would have been avoided or curtailed if the BI team had better prepared executive management for the new world.

The technologists could have said, "We're going to give you sudden transparency that will probably shock you no matter what we say in advance. When you see the true numbers and realize what they mean for your bottom line and your way of doing business, you may become angry and think, 'Departmental heads are going to roll!'"

"However, we urge you to accept the information as evidence that your world is beginning to change. You and your managers didn't have the real facts before or you would have obtained different results for the company."

BI Will Rock IT's World, Too

A BI implementation usually changes an IT department's world in terms of roles, responsibilities, and ideas. Successful BI demands highly effective data management and some person (or persons) to assume that role. If the role already exists, implementation is likely to expand its responsibilities.

Unfortunately, many IT departments don't clearly assign responsibility for data management. DBAs do not necessarily fill this role -- they mostly manage data items with regard to their storage and retrieval rather than their meanings or information content.

Although IT may have had report developers prior to a BI implementation, they may not be accustomed to working within a framework that favors reusable information products such as those stored in data warehouses and marts. They may need to learn how to collaborate with the DW team in order to optimize productivity.

For example, one report writer worked for three months on a complex set of reports without success. When a BI architect investigated, she realized she could construct a few customized tables that would make the reporting solution much easier to produce.

The BI team could have prevented the wasted effort by better preparing IT to leverage the new ways of managing data. The same was true for a report developer who squandered extensive time on data relationships and modeling. As the IT managers changed their ideas about which skills would fit with which roles, IT was able to more fully utilize employees whose skills had been developed "under the radar."

The Edge of the World

Taking people to the edge of their world and into the next requires deep respect for other people's feelings and their sense of pride. Interpersonal communication is imperative.

User management always wants to know what's going to happen. Exactly what will the world look like when this BI program really kicks in? We don't know exactly. We do know it begins to change when hours are no longer wasted as they were and when stakeholders have a clear view to their respective areas of responsibility.

That's what the company needs to know during early discussions.

About the Authors

Roger Cogswell's interest in organizing information for rapid storage and recognition goes back to his childhood desire to pass exams. As a Centric manager and BI consultant, he works with clients to build high-performing information delivery teams. You can contact him at roger.cogswell@alum.mit.edu.


Max T. Russell invites your questions about marketing. As owner of Max and Max Communications, he improves messages for BI, nonprofits, lawyers and alternative medicine. He and his identical twin, Max S., are heavy technology users who have been discussing and dissecting the challenges of IT in the workplace for the past 20 years. You can contact the author at maxt@maxtrussell.com.


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