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"Don't Talk to Our People..." and Other Warehousing Death Knells

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Mark W. Humphries and Michelle C. Dy present IT war stories from their data warehousing consulting practice. Mark Humphries and Michelle Dy are co-authors with Michael C. Hawkins of Data Warehousing: Architecture and Implementation (Prentice Hall PTR, 1999, ISBN 0-13-080902-0).
Placing special emphasis on a comprehensive approach combining organization, people, process, and technology, Harris Kern's Enterprise Computing Institute is recognized as one of the world's premier sources for CIOs and IT professionals concerned with managing information technology.
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After working as IT consultants for many years, we can't help but recognize the warning signs that indicate impending disaster on a technology project. In this war story, we present three situations we've encountered in the course of our data warehousing consulting practice. With the benefit of hindsight, we've come to recognize these as warehousing death knells.

"Don't Talk to Our People"

One of the worst things anyone can encounter on a data warehousing project is an information technology (IT) department or division that's resistant to the very idea of warehousing.

Many years ago, we had the pleasure of working with one of the key user groups in a financial institution in Southeast Asia. These were technology-savvy users who had long been frustrated by the state of management reporting in their organization, and were now excited by the prospect of having integrated customer data at their fingertips through data warehousing technology. They were contacting product vendors, meeting with hardware companies, talking to consulting firms, and in all aspects leading the charge forward on this initiative.

With data warehousing so dependent on operational system data, it was inevitable that we as potential consultants would need to talk to the organization's IT department to gain a better understanding of the existing technology infrastructure. And it was there in the IT department that we hit the IT wall.

Not only did it take numerous attempts to set even a single meeting; each meeting we had was largely unproductive, with IT staff who were either cold or openly hostile when data warehousing was being discussed. Before long, we heard the death knell of this project: "You can borrow whatever documentation you want, but don't talk to our people, and don't touch our systems."

It became obvious fairly quickly that we had walked into an ongoing struggle between the IT department and the business users. The IT department had prioritized work on the operational systems, and in fact were constantly fire-fighting to keep the operational systems from crashing. They realized correctly that the last thing they needed—or wanted—was another project to dilute their focus. And once that became obvious to us, we knew it would be prudent to back off.

It has been four years since our first encounter with that IT department; and it was only last year that they started once again to explore data warehousing technologies. With the Y2K challenge successfully hurdled, perhaps now is the appropriate time to discuss data warehousing and business intelligence applications.

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