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Posted Feb 24, 2011

How to Conduct a Data Warehousing/Business Intelligence Assessment

By Denise Rogers

You know what typically happens when constructing and deploying a data warehousing/business intelligence environment: The aggressive timelines are shortened, the budget is tightened and the team experiences turnover. These factors are the dynamic aspects of any project. So to compensate and still deliver, there almost certainly will be a deviation from the reference architecture and the initial charter and scope.

But how is the DW/BI platform brought into alignment to the original scope? Well, doing a current state assessment does just that. The primary goal of doing a DW/BI assessment is to examine all components of the DW/BI solution and make recommendations required to correct the path of the DW/BI program. It is basically done to get the DW/BI initiative back on track and re-aligned to the original scope. Most assessments have somewhat of an approach or template that is used to gather information from both the IT and business components. However, the approach taken to complete an assessment of this type has changed over the years.

A DW/BI assessment - the definition

So to make sure we're on the same page as to what a DW/BI assessment is, here is the working definition for this article. The assessment is an in-depth review of the DW/BI platform as currently implemented, with findings and recommendations related to its future direction and capability to address the organization's needs. It includes the following:

  • The scope includes the analysis of the components of the DW/BI platform, the data sources, the data targets, and the infrastructure that support it.
  • The findings and recommendations for both the IT and business components to stabilize the environment and to enable future growth.

Assessment with a purpose and scope, but no vision

In days and projects past, business intelligence assessments would proceed along a course of action that included describing the environment, identifying the areas for improvement and recommendations to make things work better. This is a pretty good way to improve the DW/BI platform that has been in existence for some time.

This approach works for the most part when the scope of the effort is to improve the existing environment. However, to identify the areas to be improved upon means that there are ideals that are being strived for. The reasoning and thought process behind the assessment is to make the DW/BI better, usually relating to expansion. This expansion could be an increased data footprint, new DW/BI products or addition of new users of the various BI applications.

However, where this approach falls short is that these assessments do not speak to the reference architecture and the future vision of the DW/BI environment. The recommendations will improve the environment to accommodate the expansion of the initiative, but not the efforts and tasks that will re-align the DW/BI application into the direction that it should have had in the first place.

So in a word this approach is more tactical and less strategic.

Assessment with a purpose, scope and vision!

There is now a somewhat different approach to completing DW/BI assessments. This includes all the components described in the prior section, but this approach has more of a focus on not just correcting the direction of the DW/BI environment but creating a roadmap such that the recommendations are used to resolve issues that are both tactical and strategic in nature.

The purpose of this approach is to not only provide a starting point for the next phase of the data warehouse strategy, but also to provide the opportunity to realign the DW/BI environment to the future state reference architecture and scope. This is especially significant if the platform that was deployed was a very different version of the original intent of the reference architecture, the scope and the project charter.

This type of assessment includes two sets of recommendations, tactical and strategic. The tactical recommendations basically address problems in the current environment related to scalability, performance and stability.

Strategic recommendations are more visionary in nature. Their primary purpose is to refocus the DW/BI environment on the future state reference architecture and the course of actions that it will take to get there.

Which approach is the right one?

Doing a DW/BI assessment is a required effort and should be done when the environment is up and running for some time in production. The question is what is the scope of the assessment? Is it to improve upon the design of the existing DW/BI platform or is it to realign the environment to the reference architecture? That question must be answered in order to determine which approach and form the assessment should take.

See all articles by Denise Rogers

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