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Three requirements in a data consolidation project

Data consolidation is moving slowly despite the clear benefits. A successful project requires three main ingredients -- a CEO mandate, enterprise-wide commitment and an investment of time and money.

The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI) says that only 11% of organizations have consolidated their data across the enterprise; 56 % are doing it now, and 26 % are exploring the idea. Why the delay when the capabilities have existed for years?

"One is habit," said Wayne Eckerson, director of research at TDWI. "People are familiar with spreadsheets and Access databases ... they don't change easily. Those environments also give individual departments control they wouldn't have with a warehouse."

Eckerson said that successful data consolidation projects require three things: a mandate from the CEO; an enterprise-wide commitment to deliver consistent information; and a substantial investment in time and money.

At shipping firm Canadian National Railway (CNR), where data was growing at a rate of 79 % annually, the CEO requested the project so there was no need to convince upper management to buy into the idea. Here, getting the enterprise-wide commitment was the challenge.

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"People who had been in the group for a long time created the most push-back," explained Saskia Roukema, business intelligence product manager. "But I brought in new people to lead some of the teams—people who were respected by those staff members, and that helped."

Roukema built the project into her 50 employees' job objectives, so everybody knew what their roles were, and communication was clear. To generate excitement, she brought in specialists to train people on site, sent them to advanced training conferences, and had regular planning sessions with the team leaders. They also spoke with executives to hear how the warehouse was going to be used and "to understand that what they were producing was of great value," she said.

Another major challenge, Eckerson said, is "Getting everyone in an organization to agree to processes, terms and metrics." At CNR, different departments had different ways of defining those metrics. To ensure that everyone was in synch, Roukema established an interdepartmental executive committee.

"Executives from finance, marketing and operations had to agree to a definition or a business rule before we would implement it," he said. "If there was a disagreement, we wouldn't move ahead until it was resolved."

The first iteration took about 18 months to create and finish. That first leg was expensive and time-consuming, Roukema said, "Now, every subsequent project that comes in ends up being faster and faster and cheaper and cheaper because it takes advantage of a common base."

Railway executives currently use the data to study 100 metrics, including the status of trains, cars, crews, delivery and revenue on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The shipper didn't set metrics against the warehousing project itself, preferring to focus directly on the corporate goals. Soon, the company will start providing those same metrics on an individual level to clients. ________________________________________

Copyright © 2004 Carlson Marketing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. Peppers & Rogers Group is a Carlson Marketing Group Company.

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