For my final Design Tip, I’m returning to a fundamental theme that’s not rocket science, but too often ignored: business-IT collaboration. If you buy into the proposition that the true measure of DW/BI success is business acceptance of the deliverables to improve their decision-making, then buying into the importance of collaboration should be easy. Achieving business adoption is a pipedream if the IT resources on a DW/BI team don’t collaborate with their business counterparts. Likewise, the business needs to be willing to collaborate with IT.
Collaborative multi-disciplinary teams create successful DW/BI programs. Every major juncture of the Kimball Lifecycle approach lends itself to joint activities that bolster business-IT alignment:
- Program/project planning – Drive priorities based on business goals and objectives, balanced with delivery feasibilities.
- Program/project management – Communicate openly regarding checkpoint updates and solicit joint input regarding scope modifications.
- Business requirements – Focus on what the business does and why, plus how the business hopes to make decisions in the future, rather than asking “what do you want in a DW/BI system?”
- Technical architecture and product selection – Involve business representatives to select their tools. As a friendly reminder to the technologists: technology is a prerequisite enabler, but should not be the DW/BI team’s primary focus! Don’t bother educating (or perhaps overeducating) the business about infrastructure and plumbing.
- Dimensional modeling – Derive dimensional models from interactive workshops with business and IT representatives rather than from an isolated designer sitting in an ivory tower. Engaging subject matter experts from the business is absolutely critical to designing appropriate dimensional models. They should also be included in the data discovery and associated data governance decisions.
- ETL design and development – Enlist business subject matter experts to appropriately address data quality issues with IT representatives; IT shouldn’t make these decisions in a vacuum.
- BI application design and development – Prototype BI reports and analytics with the business.
- Deployment – Solicit business input on the initial and ongoing education/support needs.
Since many Design Tip subscribers reside in the IT organization, I’ve focused on the importance of IT breaking down barriers with the business so they’re viewed as partners instead of bottlenecks. But collaboration is a two-way street. It’s equally important that business representatives collaborate with their IT counterparts by considering the following guidance:
- Invite IT to sit alongside you during business strategy sessions.
- Invest the time to educate IT about the business. The more IT knows, the better they can support your needs. It’s insufficient and ineffective to merely provide IT with a report or dataset specification.
- Engage IT at the beginning of an initiative rather than involving them mid-project (or after your consultants are gone).
- Appreciate IT’s need to think about the enterprise, not just your individual department. Their concerns regarding data governance and master data are real.
- Strive to avoid recreating the wheel with a proliferation of similar, but often slightly different, datasets, reports and analyses. This proliferation typically results in significant hard and soft costs for the organization.
- Tap into IT’s expertise. Don’t make technology decisions in a vacuum without their involvement. And ask yourself whether you really want to maintain silo datasets, applications, and supplier relationships without IT’s help.
The Kimball Lifecycle approach discourages a customer-vendor mindset where the business provides IT with an order which IT then attempts to fulfill. Our approach has always advocated for a partnership between IT and business stakeholders. Collaboration is far more than scheduling a meeting with interested parties; collaboration means working differently to actively engage both sides in joint decisions. Unfortunately, collaboration between the business and IT doesn’t come naturally in some organizations. People may think differently, communicate using different vocabulary, and be incented differently. The goal is mutual engagement and understanding which typically requires strong cross-organizational support at leadership levels, especially if business and IT resources need to be nudged out of their “same as always” attitudes. Ultimately, the line between the camps will blur with resources who comfortably straddle both worlds.
Finally, this is my last chance to speak with all of you. I want to express my gratitude and appreciation for the countless people who’ve crossed my path during the last 34 years. Thanks to my husband and daughter for your unwavering patience and support. Thanks to my Metaphor colleagues whose influence has persisted throughout my career. Thanks to my DecisionWorks and Kimball Group partners for your intelligence and inspiration. And most importantly, thanks to my clients, students, and readers; you’ve made it an amazing journey! Breaking up the band is always hard. While the Kimball Group is shutting its doors, our methods will live on through all of you. Good luck! Just remember: focus on the business and be dimensional!
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