When you’re pitching a data warehousing project to top management (even to the CEO or CFO), work the following two statements into your presentation:

  • “We have data all over the place on a bunch of different machines, and frankly, we can’t get at any of it. Oh, yeah, much of it’s inconsistent, too.”

  • “You know those reports you and your staff are always complaining about — the ones that always show up too late every quarter to be of any value? And the ones that have incorrect data, and no one uses them anyway? Do you want to fix that problem once and for all, using technology that really works?”

In these two statements, you have addressed both the technology side and the business-value side of data warehousing. The first statement, the data warehousing side, addresses the reality that the company doesn’t have one big data bank in which every piece of information is carefully catalogued, organized, and available to everyone in your company who needs it.

Don’t laugh. You might be surprised at how many people without an IT background think that corporate systems are much better than they really are. These folks probably get this idea from movies and novels in which you can use a few keystrokes to access, in just seconds, every piece of information about an individual — for evil purposes, of course — or change it, or even delete it, all in a flawlessly seamless way. Hah!

A good dose of reality about the state of corporate data assets is usually a good topic to mention to justify why a project will take more than a weekend to complete.

The second statement addresses the question, “Why bother to do anything with that dispersed, inconsistent data? Why not just ignore it?”

You can talk all you want about scorecards, dashboards, and data mining in your pitch. You can show slides and demos that depict drill-down and other OLAP principles. You can go on and on about being predictive, not reactive.

Nothing works better, however, to explain what a data warehouse can do than to put the business-value discussion in the context of what’s almost always a point of pain in an organization: dealing with those convoluted reports that are always late, inaccurate, and worthless.

There is a hypothesis that every business manager has between four and seven attention points that he or she uses to help run an organization’s operations and make decisions. In business life, the traditional way many managers address these points has involved reports (usually one or two for each attention point) that they use to analyze information and make decisions.

In many settings, any information-driven analysis and decision making (rather than seat-of-the-pants decision making) boils down to the use of reports. That’s right — reports. Reports are a concept that most managers and executives can understand, so talk about the benefits in terms of reports when you’re trying to sell data warehousing.

So, what’s a recommended way to sell the concept of data warehousing and your project, in particular, to executive management? As a much better, much more timely way to generate reports.