SCENE: You are a marketing manager, responsible for the launch of a critical new product line. You are talking to an IT Manager responsible for the data you need to report on the success of your marketing programs.
I’m in desperate need of better insight into my campaigns and customers!
We’ll first need to finish the data warehouse, which will take years and cost millions of lives.
You (In a panic)
But I have goals to meet this year! What will it cost to get what I need in three months?
IT manager (Laughing so hard he falls of his chair)
Is this a repeating bad dream? Or, is it your reality? If so, it’s time to take control.
There are alternatives to getting business intelligence (BI) without a data warehouse. These days, you can avoid the time and expense of a data warehouse built to derive BI–when you need it and within your budget.
How is this possible? First, keep in mind that a data warehouse does not generate any new data. It just copies existing data to make the information more accessible for querying and reporting. Data does not suddenly appear once the data warehouse is built; the facts have always been there.
In recent years, there have been remarkable advances in technology to bypass the step of fully developing a data warehouse and layering access tools on top of it. Among them is the fact that online analytical processing (OLAP) and other database technologies have become plentiful, powerful and inexpensive (even free in some cases). Also, advanced import/export tools and connectivity technologies, such as ODBC, JDBC and XML have all but removed one of the biggest hurdles: transferring data from one platform to another. Hardware and software advances enable your desktop PC to perform functions previously capable only by mainframes.
With these advances, the demand for BI has only increased, encouraging even more suppliers to develop technologies to support needs such as yours. But before you go hunting for a solution, make sure you know what you’re looking for.
In the past, only large service bureaus could take your data and provide you with BI tools. It was a significant endeavor (with a sizeable investment in time and money), yet the solution sometimes provided only limited functionality. In fact, frustration with service bureaus is one of the reasons why data warehousing became so widespread.
Get IT Buy-in
Today, smaller companies (and a few large ones) have leveraged technology advances to put your important data within easy reach. These companies offer various service options that include:
- Marketing dashboards. Do you need to see how your recent campaigns have affected customer sales? A marketing dashboard allows you to see key marketing outcomes in graphic format. I have seen reasonably robust dashboard solutions leveraging new technologies deployed in as little as six weeks.
- Reporting tools. New technologies can help you deploy a solution tailored to your needs while giving your analysts some long-deserved job satisfaction: More of their time will be spent understanding and interpreting the reports, rather than creating them.
- Advanced-ad hoc analysis. This can be a one-time project, in which a vendor digs into your data to answer a question that’s been hanging over your head or one that your team hasn’t had bandwidth to tackle. Or it could be a tool to allow you or your analyst to quickly drill into the data. The options are varied; be sure to know what you need.
So how do you get started? Before you deploy a solution, you need to assess your unique situation. Three keys are know what you want, know where your data is and do some research.
It is critical to first spell out and prioritize exactly what you’re looking for in as much detail as possible. Is it a campaign dashboard that gives you up-to-date information on your marketing initiatives? Is it an easy tool to enable your business analyst to do ad hoc analysis and reporting?
Learn as much information about the existing data as you can. It might be difficult. Your data might be in Excel files, in comma-delimited text files, in an email report or sitting blithely on a server up in the attic, but it’s there.
Do your homework to find the right vendor, and note that tutors are available. For a nominal cost, professional services firms can help you identify appropriate candidates. When talking to these vendors, be up front about your needs (and budget; there’s no sense in going too far if available dollars aren’t in line with their main offerings).
New BI technologies are not intended to replace a data warehouse. Quite the contrary; a data warehouse is a long-term investment that can be leveraged by the entire company, and BI tools are only enhanced by its existence. However, when that data warehouse isn’t available and you have an immediate need that isn’t being met, reach out to find a new product or service. I’m optimistic that your nightmares will pass.