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Beware the Objection Removers

Is that sales pitch flying in the face of conventional wisdom? Start asking questions now.

Centralizing all IT functions lets you establish control over the parts of your data warehouse. This objection remover is a cousin of the earlier application integration claim. But this general claim of centralization is more dangerous because it is less specific and therefore harder to measure. Strong centralization has always appealed to the IT mentality, but in the largest organizations, centralizing all IT functions through a single point of control has about as much chance of succeeding as a centrally planned economy. The grand experiment of centrally planned economies in eastern Europe lasted most of the 20th century and was a spectacular failure. The arguments for centralization have a certain consistency, but the problem is that it's too expensive and too time consuming to do fully centralized planning, and these idealistically motivated designs are too insular to be in touch with dynamic, real-world environments. These plans assume perfect information and perfect control, and are too often designs of what we'd like to have, not designs reflecting what we actually have. Every data architect in charge of a monolithic enterprise data model should be forced to do end-user support.

Leave your backup worries behind you. Developing a good backup-and-recovery strategy is a complex task that depends on the content of your data and the scenarios under which you must recover that data from the backup media. There are at least three independent scenarios: 1) immediate restart or resumption of a halted process such as a data warehouse load job, 2) recovery of a dataset from a stable starting point within the past few hours or days, as when a physical storage medium fails, and 3) very long-term recovery of data when the original application or software environment that handles the data may not be available. The larger picture for this objection remover, obviously, is that each of these scenarios is highly dependent on your data content, your technical environment and the legal requirements, such as compliance, that mandate how you maintain "custody" of your data. A good backup strategy requires thoughtful planning and a multipronged approach.

Build your data warehouse in 15 minutes. I've saved the best one for last! The only way you can build a data warehouse in 15 minutes is to narrow the scope of the data warehouse so drastically that there's no extraction, no transformation and no loading of data in a format meant for consumption by your BI tools. In other words, the definition of a 15-minute data warehouse is one that is already present in some form. Too bad this objection remover is so transparent.... It doesn't even offer a temporary feeling of relief.

There's always a letdown after shining a bright light on these objection removers by examining their larger context. Life is complex, after all.

Let's finish our list of four steps:

3. Create the counterargument.Remember, most objection removers aren't patently fraudulent, but by creating a good counterargument, you'll remove the impulse factor and understand the full context of your problem. This is also an interesting point at which you'll see if the salesperson has a textured, reasonable view of a product or service.

4. Make your decision. It's perfectly reasonable to buy a product or service even when you've detected an objection remover. If you've placed it in an objective context or dismissed it altogether yet are still feeling good about the product, then go for it!

Quick Study: Kimball University DW/BI Best Practices

Do you recognize the following "objection removers" designed to relieve your concerns so you'll move ahead with buying a product?

  • You don't need a data warehouse—now you can query the source systems directly.
  • You can leave the data in a normalized structure all the way to the end user query tools because our system is so powerful that it easily handles the most complex queries.
  • Our "applications integrator" makes incompatible legacy systems smoothly function together.
  • Centralizing your customer management within our system makes your customer matching problems go away and provides one place where all customer information resides.
  • You don't need to build aggregates to make your data warehouse queries run fast.
  • Build your data warehouse in 15 minutes.
  • Startling claims that fly in the face of conventional wisdom and practice are almost always objection removers, so be wary of such claims. Objection removers contain a core claim that has value, but they usually oversimplify or omit the larger context of your concerns. Don't dismiss a product the moment you hear such a claim; the best way to respond is to develop a sound counterargument that clarifies your concerns. If you still feel good about a product, you can move forward knowing you're not making an impulsive decision.

Required Reading

This article is about critical thinking. A wonderful Web site is devoted to the best links to critical thinking resources: www.austhink.org/critical.

Ralph Kimball, founder of the Kimball Group, teaches dimensional data warehouse and ETL design through Kimball University and reviews large warehouses. He has four best-selling data warehousing books in print, including The Data Warehouse ETL Toolkit (Wiley, 2004). Write to him at [email protected].