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The BI Evangelist

You’ve spent the past several years building a data warehouse and now it’s done. So, what’s next?

Although you’ve delivered an elegantly designed data warehouse on time and within budget, this is no guarantee that you will succeed. In fact, building and deploying a data warehouse is easy compared to getting users to fully exploit the value of what you’ve built. To be honest, the day you deliver the data warehouse is the day that your job really starts.

Spreading the Good News

To make good on their data warehousing investments, some organizations are creating the role of “BI Evangelist.” This person is responsible for spreading the “good news” about the data warehouse and what it can do for the organization. Whether or not the person holds this exact title, their full time job is to educate business users about what’s in the data warehouse, how to use it, and how it can help them do their jobs more effectively.

“I am now on the business side in a new position that our company feels is critical to maintaining a competitive edge,” says Deb Masdea, who led the data warehousing effort at the Scotts Company, a manufacturer of lawn and garden products. Last year, Masdea was appointed to a newly created position with the title, Director of Business Information and Analysis. She says, “My job is to help our management team, sales people, and others to leverage the use of knowledge contained in our data warehouse. Whatever they need to make their decisions, I make sure they know how to get it and how use it.”

Masdea has been so successful that last year she was given a “Sales Achievement Award” by Scotts’ North American sales organization for the work she did to help them drive the business with information. This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a data warehousing person receiving a sales award, but it shouldn’t be the last!

Like Masdea, most BI evangelists lead a team that built the data warehouse and have a vested interest in making sure the project succeeds long-term. They also report to the business side of the organization, not IT, and have a solid understanding of the business. They can communicate the value of data warehousing and business intelligence in terms that business users can relate to and understand.

Improving “Analytic IQ”

At a practical level, BI evangelists work closely with senior executives and managers to help them get the most out of the new BI resource. Since executives rarely attend training sessions, BI evangelists often schedule one-on-one sessions with these individuals, serving as a “personal BI trainer.” This job is critical since executives can dramatically increase the acceptance and usage of a data warehouse. The most effective way to market BI and engender trust in it is to have executives use it on a regular basis.

On a strategic level, BI evangelists help improve the “analytic IQ” of the organization. They observe what business users are trying to accomplish and help them learn how to frame questions, queries, and reports that will shed new insights on the tasks and processes they manage. In some cases, the BI evangelist can even help users better understand what actions to take and how to gauge the effectiveness of those actions. In short, the BI evangelist can help users become better analysts and logical thinkers—something that many people say is in short supply in organizations today.

Managing Networks of Power Users

In a large organization, the BI evangelist can’t possibly provide one-on-one training and assistance to every user. So, a big part of the evangelist’s job is to train and support a network of power users in every department that uses the data warehouse. These power users create reports for their departments and provide first-line support and training to individual users.

Power users are business people with a technical bent. They are well-suited to create reports since they are immersed in the business and interact daily with their colleagues whom they support. Often, the power users take on these “BI” responsibilities in addition to their regular duties. They are usually compensated in some way, either by a reduction in their other job responsibilities or an increase in pay.

Marketing the Resource

Besides training and education, a big part of the BI evangelist’s responsibility is to market the data warehouse through all possible channels. The evangelist communicates to business users of the data warehouse through newsletters, e-mail, and the corporate intranet, as well as departmental and company meetings. The evangelist seeks to get executives to recognize the value of the data warehouse in corporate in-house publications as well as annual reports, shareholders’ meetings, and interviews with the press.

In addition, BI evangelists religiously monitor usage of the data warehouse through systems management tools. They measure their own progress by charting usage metrics, including named users, daily users, the number of reports and queries submitted, response times, and so on. They continually recommend ways to prune and tune the data warehouse to ensure it provides optimal performance with minimal administration.

Conclusion

Building an elegant data warehouse is not enough to guarantee success. It’s only the start. The key is to ensure that your target users not only log on to the system after it’s first deployed but on a continual basis. For that to happen, they need to trust the system and know how to get the most out of it.

BI evangelists play a critical role in monitoring data warehouse usage and developing ongoing training and marketing programs to ensure the organization is maximizing its investment in BI. Smart companies appoint BI evangelists as an insurance policy to guarantee the value and payoff of their BI investments.

About the Author

Wayne Eckerson is director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute (TDWI), a provider of in-depth education and research in the business intelligence and data warehousing industry.

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