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KPIs for Data Warehousing Managers

It’s funny how we rarely eat our own dogfood. Someone recently asked a question in TDWI’s LinkedIn group about the key performance indicators that data warehousing managers should use to measure BI/DW effectiveness. The first several respondents cited classic IT metrics, such as data transfer volume, data sizes, average ETL run times, average query response times, number of reports, number of users, etc. Then, a few people reminded everyone that KPIs, by definition, are “key”—typically, few in number, driven by top-level goals, easy to understand, and actionable.

The best KPIs drive dramatic improvements to the business. As such, there may only be one or two true KPIs per function (e.g. BI/DW) per level: operational, tactical, and strategic. Typically, each set of KPIs drives performance in the level above. Thus, operational KPIs in an operational dashboard drive tactical KPIs in a tactical dashboard which drive KPIs in a strategic dashboard. Each dashboard is used by different people at different levels of the BI/DW organization--from analysts and administrators to managers and architects to directors and sponsors--but the aligned KPIs ensure that everyone is working towards the same end.

For example, an operational dashboard measures processes in flight that enable ETL analysts, BI analysts, or database administrators to fix problems as they happen and optimize performance. At this level, KPIs for BI/DW might be: “The ETL job is spitting out a large number of errors.” “Query response times are slow.” Or “The number of users on the system is below normal.” In each case, an ETL developer, database administrator, or BI analyst respectively takes immediate action to investigate and fix the source of the problem.

A tactical dashboard measures departmental objectives and goals. In the BI/DW world, these goals are specified in service level agreements established with data warehousing customers. These might include DW availability (“The DW is refreshed at 8 a.m. week days 90% of the time”) and DW reliability (The “DW is operational 99.99% of the time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern time.”) These KPIs show whether the BI/DW team is on track to meet SLAs in a given time period. If not, the BI manager or architect needs to figure out why and take action  to meet SLAs before it's too late.

A strategic dashboard measures how well the BI/DW team is achieving its strategic objectives. Say for example, the BI/DW team’s mission is to “Empower business users with timely, reliable data that improves decisions.” A strategic KPI could be "the number of unique BI users each week who run a report," or the "ratio of active vs inactive users each week," or the "percentage of users rating BI as “critical to making quality decisions this period'” in a semi-annual survey. Lower than expected usage should cause BI directors and sponsors to understand what inhibits usability and take steps to improve it.

Sometimes, a single strategic KPI from the BI/DW team lands on the scorecard of senior executive. The executive uses the KPI to judge the effectiveness of the BI/DW resource and make funding decisions. Thus, it’s really important to think long and hard about that single KPI and how all your efforts are focused toward achieving positive results there. This can be done if your BI/DW KPIs are aligned so that lower-level KPIs drive higher-level ones and all are based on measurements that drive actions.

Let me know what you think!!

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on December 10, 2009


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