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TDWI Blog: Data 360

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Zen BI: The Wisdom of Letting Go

One of my takeaways from last week’s BI Executive Summit in Las Vegas is that veteran BI directors are worried about the pace of change at the departmental level. More specifically, they are worried about how to support the business’ desire for new tools and data stores without undermining the data warehousing architecture and single version of truth they have worked so hard to deliver.

At the same time, many have recognized that the corporate BI team they manage has become a bottleneck. They know that if they don’t deliver solutions faster and reduce their project backlog, departments will circumvent them and develop renegade BI solutions that undermine the architectural integrity of the data warehousing  environment.

The Wisdom of Letting Go

In terms of TDWI’s BI Maturity Model, these DW veterans have achieved adulthood (i.e. centralized development and EDW) and are on the cusp of landing in the Sage stage. However, to achieve true BI wisdom (i.e. Sage stage), they must do something that is both counterintuitive and terrifying: they must let go. They must empower departments and business units to build their own DW and BI solutions.

Entrusting departments to do the right thing is a terrifying prospect for most BI veterans. They fear that the departments will create islands of analytical information and undermine data consistency with which they have worked so hard to achieve. The thought of empowering departments makes them grip the proverbial BI steering wheel tighter. But asserting control at this stage usually backfires. The only option is to adopt a Zenlike attitude and let go.

Trust in Standards

I'm reminded of the advice that Yoda in the movie “Star Wars” provides his Jedi warriors-in-training: “Let go and trust the force.” But, in this case, DW veterans need to trust their standards. That is, the BI standards that they’ve developed in the BI Competency Center, including definitions for business objects (i.e. business entities and metrics), processes for managing BI projects, techniques for developing BI software, and processes and procedures for managing ETL jobs and handling errors, among other things.

Some DW veterans who have gone down this path add the caveat: “trust but verify.” Although educating and training departmental IT personnel about proper BI development is critical, it’s also important to create validation routines where possible to ensure business units conform to standards.

Engage Departmental Analysts

The cagiest veterans also recognize that the key to making distributed BI development work is to recruit key analysts in each department to serve on a BI Working Committee. The Working Committee defines DW and BI standards, technologies, and architectures and essentially drives the BI effort, reporting their recommendations to the BI Steering Committee comprised of business sponsors for approval. Engaging analysts who are most apt to create renegade BI systems ensures the DW serves their needs and helps ensure buy-in and support.

By adopting a Zen like approach to BI, veteran DW managers can eliminate project backlogs, ensure a high level of customer satisfaction, and achieve BI nirvana.

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on February 28, 2010


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