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Lack of DW support, maintenance expertise drives outsourcing

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The need within businesses for a data warehouse which provides a single repository for information has become ever more apparent as data continues to proliferate and information from a variety of sources across multiple applications adds complexity. However, as many organisations are discovering, once the data warehouse has been built it requires specific skills sets to support and maintain it.

Says Jannie Strydom of BI Planning Service (BIPS), a company that specialises in the design, development and deployment of Data Warehouse, Business Intelligence and Performance Management solutions: "Businesses are fast realising the benefits of outsourcing non-core functions to specialists. Data warehousing is a critical function that fits well into this category.
Business processes, products, services, systems, strategies and reporting requirements change therefore making it necessary to update these changes to the data warehouse and the Business Intelligence system. However, the skills sets required to support and maintain a data warehouse are quite specialised. Since they are scarce and in high demand it is becoming near impossible for mid-sized and small organisations to cost effectively employ these skills full time."
The requirement for a data warehouse in business is growing as data increases and more analysis becomes critical to planning and decision making, he notes.
"Organisations can use spreadsheets as long as the data volumes are low enough but they must eventually establish a repository that that will allow them to order, store and retrieve the necessary information quickly. Industry trends bear this out. In the early '90s and even early 2000s, the focus was on transactional systems. In the last two or three years, however, the focus of CIOs has moved to fully exploiting systems and data to discover new information. This has raised the requirement for analysis and reporting, as well as dashboards and scorecarding – all of which depend on the data warehouse."
However, it is not enough to simply build a data warehouse.
"A data warehouse will evolve rapidly over the first year or two of its existence," says Strydom, "which is when it is most important to have the right skills at hand. Once the data warehouse is in place and the business understands its value, information requirements evolve quickly, resulting in fundamental changes needing to be made to the warehouse. Failing to make these changes means the warehouse may fall into disuse.
"For this reason it is wise for the organisation to partner with the service provider that built the data warehouse. Once the designers of the warehouse are gone it will be up to in-house staff to maintain the warehouse or to contract in a service provider to do so – which can be costly since the new service provider will have to first acquaint itself with the business and the design of the data warehouse."
Maintaining a data warehouse and BI system would typically require someone to check the system once a day, peruse log files, write procedures and check identified problems, as well as receive and implement new system requirements and make necessary system adjustments.
"Keeping this person on the company's IT payroll – with all the expenses associated with maintaining full time staff – makes it an expensive exercise. Organisations also have to deal with high levels of churn among technical staff which is exacerbated by the dearth of skills in this field which we continue to experience for various reasons," says Strydom.
This recently prompted BIPS, to recently review a new service to the market.
Explains Strydom: "BIPS has a large and solid  base of skilled professionals. We calculate that remotely catering to the data warehouse and BI support and maintenance requirements of a business could introduce significant savings to an organisation. We also offer ad hoc development, add-ons and customisation. This provides the organisation with a skilled ICT professional to make the changes and adaptations it needs to the data warehouse to better facilitate its business – whenever it needs to."
Consistency is critical when dealing with a data warehouse, as is a deep understanding of data warehouse design principles. "One of the key service philosophies at BIPS is to ensure staff are dedicated to servicing particular clients. This allows them to develop a true understanding of the business, the systems that enable it and the organisation's ICT architecture," says Strydom.
As in all successful outsourced arrangements, the solution an organisation selects must have clear deliverables and provide definite benefits.
"The proper support and maintenance of the data warehouse is pivotal in any business that relies on reports and information to drive decision making and business performance. An SLA is thus essential as is ensuring the selected outsourced service provider has the necessary experience and expertise, and a proven track record," Strydom adds.