This post is part 1 of 2
The first data mart I created was back in the late 1990's. I did everything right (or at least by the book). The users knew what they wanted, the data existed, the ETL tool was adequate and the data model came together like a dream (a geeky dream, not a cool dream like having super powers or winning the lottery). I was stoked! We unveiled the masterpiece to our stakeholders to great fanfare and excitement. Then, a funny thing happened over the next 6 months. It barely got used. I had a hard time accepting this, and pushed for answers (my wife says I do that a lot).
Here is what I learned: It turns out that having a full set of easily attainable requirements doesn't always mean you are creating something of business value. In my case, I was creating a data mart and BI solutions that were based on what was already known. Sure, the data was now easier to report on since it was consolidated, so the users thought it was a great candidate for a data mart and a BI solution. Once it was in front of them, they were mildly impressed and basically went back to just pulling standard data from pre-defined parameterized reports. They were less interested in navigating, data mining, and performing what-if analysis than I was anticipating.
Fast forward 12 years and many failures later...I've come to realize that the most valuable epiphanies in business are much like those in our personal lives. The combinations of things taken in new ways create wonder and enlightenment. Consider your own experiences. Do you remember the first time you had strawberries with cream? How about a sandwich with mayonnaise? Did the discovery of ketchup impact your creativity and desire for lunch as a child? Did new options and combinations come to mind? Did you open up to new possibilities and explore the wonders of food? I know I did (wish I could stop now that I'm...ahem...older).
I submit that "real" BI is reaching into our companies' data refrigerators and coming up with new combinations of business facts and dimensions to create wonder and enlightenment. Unfortunately, most BI vendors and industry research firms (the usual suspects) would have us retreat to the safety of the most common and well conformed data in our companies. This helps guarantee success of the warehouse, or the data mart. But when was the warehouse our finish line? When did completing a well modeled data mart become the value in the BI chain? It hasn't. We need to own up to that and realize that the reasons to create BI data structures are to promote the extraction and discovery of business value from them. Without that, we are presenting users with the same peanut butter sandwich on wheat bread that they have eaten for years.
Look for Part 2 of this blog very soon. In the meantime, reply with thoughts or experiences in this area. I'd love to hear them. I'll be here eating my pickle-banana-tomato sandwich while you type.