Deja vu all over again

There is some good old fashioned common sense in an article by John Ladley in DM Review:

where he rightly points out that although most companies are now on their second or third attempt at data warehouses, they seem not to have learnt from the past and hence seem doomed to repeat prior mistakes. Certainly a common thread in my experience is the desire of IT departments to second guess what their customers need and end up making life unnecessarily hard for themselves. If you ask a customer how long he needs access to his detailed data he will say “forever” and if you ask how real time it needs to be of then of course he would love it to be instantaneous on a global basis. What is often not presented is the trade off: “well, you can have all the data kept forever, but the project costs will go up 30% and your reporting performance will be significantly worse than if you can make do with one year of detailed data and summaries prior to this”. In such a case the user might well change his view on how critical the “forever” requirement was.

This disconnect between corporate IT departments and the business continues to be a wide one. I recently did some work for a global company where a strategy session was to decide the IT architecture to support a major MDM initiative. None of the business people had even bothered to invite the internal IT department, such was the low regard in which it was held. Without good engagement between IT and business data warehouse projects will struggle, however up to date the technology used is.

Mr Ladley is also spot on regarding data quality – it is always much worse than people imagine. “Ah, but the source is our new SAP system so the data is clean” is the kind of naive comment that many of us will recognise. At one project at Shell a few years ago it was discovered that 80% of the pack/product combinations being sold in Lubricants were duplicated somewhere else in the Group. At least that could be partially excused by a decentralised organisation. Yet it also turned out that of a commercial customer database of 20,000 records, only 5,000 were truly unique, and this was in one operating company. Imagine the fun with deliveries and invoice payment that could ensue.

Certainly data warehouse projects these days have the advantage of more reliable technology and fuller function products than ten years ago, meaning less custom coding is required than used to be the case. However the basic project management lessons never change.