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Data Warehousing Consultants: Things to Watch Out For

If you’ve ever worked with IT consultants (data warehousing specialists), you realize that not all consultants are equally skilled, equally dedicated, or equipped with the same, shall we say, degree of ethics.

Before getting into the aspects of individual consultants and the roles they can play on your data warehousing team, try to distinguish between different types of consultants and their relevance to your project.

A large part of the growth in consulting services in the 1990s and into the 2000s has been in the area of consulting formally known as staff augmentation, and less formally known as body shopping.

A number of consulting companies have been successful in creating a collection of individuals (sometimes employees of the company, sometimes independent consultants, and sometimes both) and placing these individuals, one or two at a time, in organizations looking to fill a personnel gap here and there.

To be fair, many consulting companies that perform primarily staff augmentation work put together small-scale project teams of four or five people (rather than provide a person here and there) when they have an opportunity to do an entire client project. These firms typically steer away from project-oriented work, however, because placing individuals in staffing augmentation positions is, to be blunt, a relatively low-risk way to build a company.

If your organization has an ongoing data warehousing initiative staffed primarily by internal IT members, but your team has a few open slots, you might best be served by working with a staff-augmentation-oriented consulting company to find the one or two missing links on your project team.

Be careful, though: If you’re paying good money for the services of these individuals, be prepared to complete a thorough interview process to ensure that they’re not only technically qualified but also a good cultural fit for working on-site, or increasingly remote, within your organization.

When a consulting company uses subcontractors, they’re likely to have little or no history. They might have been chosen for your project based solely on a few keywords that showed up on a résumé database search. Make sure that you carefully determine whether these people are the right fit for your data warehousing project.

The other side of consulting, the part dominated by large systems integrators, is oriented primarily toward project work, rather than staffing services. Many of these firms eschew staffing work and engage a client only (or primarily) if the client gives the firm control over a project’s methodology, the resources assigned to the project (even those from your own company), and the format of deliverables.

Although this rigid stance might sound harsh at first (“Do it my way or else, even though you’re paying me”), a sound theory is behind it. Some firms are so experienced at putting together successful project teams and performing in a certain, methodology-driven manner that to do otherwise can lead a client’s project to fail — so, they continually adapt their processes and techniques for each client.

In the area of data warehousing consulting, it’s almost comforting to work with a firm that has these qualities:

  • A successful track record of data warehouse implementations, using a variety of technologies (for example, not just data warehouses or data marts, but both)

  • Insight into the direction of data warehousing technology and architecture as they apply to your business problem, rather than a canned solution (“We’ve always done it this way”) that might not be a good fit for you

  • A commitment to the success of your project by taking on full responsibility for all aspects of implementation, rather than offering a supply of technologists who don’t assume responsibility for project management and direction

In many situations, the lines between consulting companies — the different types of firms, and even firms within the same category (staffing-oriented or project-oriented, for example) — are somewhat blurry. Remember that a data warehousing consultant from one type of environment might be a good fit for your particular needs — but he or she might not.

Similarly, a particular consulting firm might best serve your needs, depending on how you want to proceed with your data warehousing project (for example, how many — if any — people internal to your organization will work on the project). Or perhaps that consulting organization, regardless of its data warehousing expertise, isn’t a good fit for the particular implementation model you’re pursuing.

Here’s the key to avoiding mistakes: Before you talk with any consulting firms or individuals about your data warehousing needs, have a good idea first about what type of model you’re most likely to pursue (internal management of the project, rather than management by the consulting organization). With this information, you can better determine not only the technical capabilities, but also the cultural fit, that best meets your needs, deliverable dates, and budget.

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