Commit to data warehouse success

Don't let your data warehouse project fall short of its goal, work with a vendor willing to go the extra mile.

Cultivating partnerships is nothing new for Hewitt Associates LLC, a $1 billion company that makes its living running the human resources and benefits operations of its customers. Much like the company prioritizes relationship building with its outsourcing clients, Hewitt expects nothing less than the same hands-on treatment when it pairs up with data warehousing vendors.


Given that data warehousing projects often fall short of expectations, Hewitt, like other companies pursuing the technology, believes a long-term support commitment from a vendor is one of the keys to ensuring a project's success. That means on the presales side, customers want vendors to come in and evaluate their business needs by helping to model a potential data warehouse architecture and reporting structure that will deliver the best analytical information to executives--before they close the deal. In addition, customers appear most satisfied with data warehousing vendors that--along with providing the standard 24x7 help desk and global support capabilities--have longstanding partnerships with consultants, giving them the benefit of best-practice experience, as well as with third-party tool makers, ensuring minimal integration issues with front-end analytical packages.


Data warehouse customers say: "This is not a one-time sale--we want the vendor to work with us through implementation of products at our site and be readily available on a customer-support basis."

"We are very committed to being successful with our warehouse projects, so we want our vendor to have a stake in our success," explains Meg Feldner, director of data warehousing and business intelligence solutions at Hewitt, in Lincolnshire, Ill. "This is not a one-time sale--we want the vendor to work with us through implementation of products at our site and be readily available on a customer-support basis." For Hewitt, that meant spending weeks with potential data warehouse candidates building pilot applications in various business groups, before finally settling on the UNIX database from Informix Corp., in Menlo Park, Calif., as its warehouse platform and front-end analytical tools from Information Advantage Inc., in Eden Prairie, Minn.


Vendor strategies: Customers' requirement of long-standing partnerships is not going unheeded in the vendor community, and many of the major vendors are aligning with or acquiring consulting partners. Example: Last year, Sagent Technology Inc. acquired consulting firm Talus Inc.

Customers' requirement of long-standing partnerships is not going unheeded in the vendor community, according to Wayne Eckerson, a senior consultant with the Patricia Seybold Group, in Boston. Many of the major players are aligning with or acquiring consulting partners, he says, citing, for example, the acquisition last year by Sagent Technology Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., of Talus Inc., a data warehouse consulting firm specializing in scalable datamarts. Partnering with or buying a consulting company makes sense, says Eckerson, because, "If things start getting bogged down, customers have a tendency to blame the product, when it's really the methodology and process that's awry." Consultants, he explains, can help alleviate that problem.

A sampling of data warehouse vendors

Broadbase Corp.
Computer Associates International Inc.
Evoke Software Corp.
Informix Corp.
Micro Strategy Inc.
Microsoft Corp.
Oracle Corp.
Pine Cone Systems Inc.
Red Brick Systems Inc.
Sagent Technologies Inc.
SAS Institute Inc.
Sybase Inc.

Note: This list is not all-inclusive.

Having access to vendor consulting horse-power prior to deployment is one of the main ways Xerox Corp. is able to promote data warehousing on a global basis throughout the $18.2 billion company and at the same time maintain a small staff of six to oversee data-access issues, according to Jim Stranz, information access technology manager for Xerox Information Management, the IT arm of Xerox in Rochester, N.Y. "We require an educational component from our vendors where they match up their feature set with [a business unit's] requirements," Stranz says. On the back end, Xerox data warehouses are built on DB2 from IBM Corp., in Armonk, N.Y., or on RDBMS from Oracle Corp., in Redwood Shores, Calif. On the front end, a growing majority of Xerox groups are working with business intelligence tools from Viador Inc., of San Mateo, Calif.

Selling solutions is another way data warehousing vendors are satiating customers' support requirements. Instead of marketing proprietary systems that require extensive programming, most vendors are augmenting their data warehouse lines with packaged applications that solve particular business problems. "Vendors are now selling solutions," says Scott Lundstrom, a vice president at AMR Research Inc., in Boston. "They're selling around the business value, not the strength of technology." This, Lundstrom explains, plays into the industrywide trend among companies to buy packaged software rather than build applications from scratch.

In fact, says Hewitt's Feldner, when it comes to data warehousing, technology is almost secondary to the business need. "Lots of [data warehouse] projects take a while to get there and some of that is because there's not a good marriage all the time between what the business wants to achieve with the warehouse and what the technologists want to do." //

Beth Stackpole is a freelance writer based in Newbury, Mass. She frequently writes on enterprise applications and e-commerce trends. She can be reached at bstack@stackpolepartners.com.






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