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Kimball University: Educate Management to Sustain Data Warehouse/BI Success

Data warehousing and business intelligence success cannot be taken for granted. You must create an ongoing education and communication program to maintain your success and extend it across the organization.
Schedule User Forum meetings on a regular basis: about every six months or so. Don’t be too proud to employ blatant marketing techniques to promote the meeting. The basics almost go without saying: food and drink are a must. (We found trays of fresh donuts to be a big hit.) Consider offering marketing swag as prizes. Since most BI teams are friendly with the marketing group, see if they’ll let you raid their goodies closet.

It's a great idea to keep the presentations on file. After a year or two, you will have a library of powerful business-value examples. Put a link to them on your BI portal. Print them out and make a welcome packet you can present to every new executive.

Educating Senior Staff

Your top educational priority in the long term should be to continuously and consistently inform senior management about what the DW/BI system is, why it’s important, how it should be used and what it takes to make it happen (see related article on "Data Warehouse Check Ups"). The user forum helps achieve this objective, but the greater your access to senior management, the easier this education process will be.

Ideally, the head of the DW/BI system is part of senior staff and participates in their planning meetings. If not, try to get a regular slot on their meeting schedule to present success stories and plans and to hear about potential changes in business priorities.

Often, senior management will want to explore an idea to see if it's viable before launching any major new initiatives. Having a direct line to the DW/BI team can help senior management quickly triage ideas that should be abandoned and those that should be developed further. Once an idea begins to gain traction, the DW/BI team should make sure its development is accompanied by appropriate measurement and analytical systems. All too often, we’ve seen new initiatives taken on by senior management with no means to measure impact or value. If the data is not collected, you can’t analyze it.

Bottom line: however you make it happen, you need to make sure someone on the BI team is involved with senior management and understands where the business is headed so you can be prepared to support it.

Working with Steering Committees

If it’s not politically possible for the BI team lead to be part of senior staff, another way to get the information you need is to establish an ongoing steering committee for the DW/BI system made up of senior-level business representatives (see. If you don’t have a steering committee, try to recruit people who you know will be able to work together, give you the information you need and wield some influence in the organization. You might call this group the Business Intelligence Directorate (BID), or some other important-sounding name with a nice acronym. It may seem trivial, but naming is a big part of the marketing process.

You may also have a different kind of business-user steering committee made up of analysts and power users who help prioritize lower-level tasks and identify technical opportunities for the BI system. You might call this the BI Technical Experts (BITE) group.

Conclusion

You may feel like since you've done a good job, you shouldn't have to continually market the DW/BI system, or educate the business community. Unfortunately, that's not the case. You need to continually gather concrete evidence of your success and use that to educate senior management. You also need to be informed of and have some influence over the decision-making process at the senior staff level, either through direct participation or via a steering committee. This may sound like a burden, but one positive result is that as senior management understands the business value of the DW/BI system, they no longer question your budget.

Warren Thornthwaite is a member of the Kimball Group , a Kimball University instructor and is coauthor of The Microsoft Data Warehouse Toolkit (Wiley, 2006) and The Data Warehouse Lifecycle Toolkit (Wiley, 1998). Write to him at [email protected]