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Nigel Pendse: "Top 20 Tips for OLAP Success"
September 12
, 2005
Mark Rittman

Top 20 Tips for OLAP Success : "Here are 20 quick tips, some obvious, but others counterintuitive, which are all based on real-world experience and research data."

I've got a lot of time for Nigel Pendse, the industry analyst behind this article for DMReview and The OLAP Report, the "vendor neutral" resource site for OLAP technology. Nigel has kept true to the core principals behind OLAP and business intelligence and although he's not always been the most complementary about Oracle's products, he's been a great advocate of OLAP technology and not been afraid to call Oracle on the way they've migrated Express to Oracle OLAP over the years. Nigel helped me with the article I wrote last year for DMReview and has a good understanding of the way Oracle, and Microsoft are building OLAP functionality into their core database products, and moreover he's always been a great advocate for the customer when dealing with OLAP vendors.

Three of the tips that Nigel raised I thought were worth pointing out here. The first one I thought was particularly relevant considering a couple of projects I've worked on recently, where the client wanted to use just one tool - Discoverer - to do all of their reporting, even though complementary tools such as Reports or Excel would probably fit some users' needs better, but would involve extra overhead from a support perspective.


2. Don't try and force every project to use one "corporate standard" tool


There may be IT benefits in doing this, but the projects are unlikely to deliver the potential business benefits if you insist on using potentially unsuitable products for every project or override the end users. Remember that it is better to have two successful projects using different products than one integrated but unsuccessful project that conforms to IT standards but doesn't deliver business benefits. The OLAP Survey 3 confirms that selecting a product just because it is a corporate standard does not lead to successful projects. So, even if you have established corporate standards, set up a clear "waiver process" to evaluate whether new software should be used."

The next one is one close to my heart, and concerns the benefits you can get from hiring experienced, BI-focused consultants to better ensure project success:

"16. Do use consultants to help choose and implement BI solutions.

Try not to use the same firm for both selecting the product and then implementing it. Implementation consultants will always favor products they know, rather than those that are right for the task. Equally, not until you know which product you will be using can you select consultants who are known to be expert in it.

Avoid using large, famous, general purpose consultants - they cost more, take longer and usually deliver less than smaller, more focused, BI specialists. Always choose the implementation consultant after choosing the product and make sure that everyone who will be implementing the solution has already used the product in at least one previous project; don't let consultants learn to use the software at your expense."

The last one concerns the role of business users in scoping and driving the project. This one is a bit harder in practice, as although we'd all love users to generate the demand in the first place, lead the project and define the requirements, in the end what usually happens is that the project is an IT initiative, and it's IT that usually end up driving the project. Anyway:

"17. Try to ensure that projects are led by business users involved with the project.

In-house IT experts may have little BI experience and projects need to be business led. The OLAP Surveys consistently found that the most successful projects are led by external BI specialist consulting firms, and projects that are business led achieve more than those that are IT led. Of course, experienced IT people must be fully involved, but the project should always be "owned" by the business."


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