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Boosting Business Acceptance

Business acceptance is a bigger problem than BI/DW professionals want to admit. Here's how to get on the right track.

A recent Data Warehouse Designer column, "Data Warehouse Check-Ups" (June 12, 2004), discussed the importance of regularly casting a critical eye over your data warehouse/business intelligence (DW/BI) program. Check-ups identify early warning signs and symptoms so appropriate treatment can occur before more serious consequences are encountered down the road.

One of the more troubling DW/BI maladies is the business acceptance disorder. In layperson's terms, the business community isn't using the DW/BI environment — it's just not a critical component of the business decision-making process. Frankly, this is a frightening diagnosis for project teams. It's impossible to declare DW/BI success if no one in the business has embraced the results of your hard work and best intentions.

Business acceptance shortfalls must be rectified quickly once the symptoms are recognized to get the DW/BI effort back on track. The Kimball Group has talked and written extensively in the Toolkit books about the importance of embracing business users early in a new DW/BI initiative to understand their requirements and garner their buy-in. We use a similar, but somewhat different approach for re-engaging the business community. This column describes the fundamental techniques so you can comfortably and confidently get back in sync with the business to ensure ongoing involvement and acceptance.

DW/BI Business Realignment

Viewing the DW/BI project through the business users' eyes is an effective method to realign with the user community. In cooperation with the business sponsor, DW/BI team representatives talk with the business community about the ability of the DW/BI environment to effectively support their needs. Results of this process are then analyzed and presented back to the business with appropriate recommendations.

The most important aspect of the realignment process is meeting with the business community to solicit their feedback. We talk to them about what they do, why they do it, how they make decisions, and how they hope to make decisions in the future. Along the way, we also need to understand how the current DW/BI efforts support this process as well as any issues and concerns regarding the DW/BI environment. Like organizational therapy, we're trying to detect the issues and opportunities.

Choose the Forum

Before meeting with the business community, determine the most appropriate forum for a productive session. There are two primary techniques for gathering feedback — interviews and facilitated sessions. For a realignment project, interviews are preferable to facilitated sessions. Because lack of business acceptance is suspected, it's reasonable to expect some negative reactions to the existing environment. You should avoid facilitated group sessions, which may disintegrate into fingerpointing, blame-casting complaint sessions counterproductive to your mission of reinvigorating business acceptance. Besides, interviews encourage a lot of individual participation and are easier to schedule.

Surveys aren't a reasonable tool for gathering realignment feedback. Business users are unlikely to feel their issues have really been heard though a survey. Most won't bother to respond. Surveys are flat and two dimensional; those who do respond will only answer the questions you've asked in advance. There's no option to probe more deeply like you can when you're face to face. A key outcome of the realignment process is to create a bond between users and the DW/BI initiative. This outcome just doesn't happen with surveys.

Identify and Prepare the Interview Team

It's important to identify and prepare the involved project team members, especially since as some of the interviews could become contentious. The lead interviewer must ask great open-ended questions, but the individual also needs to be calm and mature; capable of receiving negative feedback without taking it personally and becoming defensive or combative. The interview scribe needs to take copious notes, pages of them from each session. A tape recorder isn't appropriate for the realignment effort because it may cause interviewees to hold back on key organizational issues. Although we often suggest inviting one or two additional project members as observers in an initial requirements-gathering effort, this practice is less desirable in a realignment project because you'll want the interviewees to be as open and honest as possible.

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