Create one version of the truth
Recently I was invited to a management team (MT) meeting of a financial services company. They asked me to lay down a clear vision about a specific Business Intelligence issue. In addition to the CEO and several managers, the CFO of the company was also present. He bemoaned the fact that the figures from the data warehouse never corresponded to those in his accounting system. He wanted one version of the truth, which is a praiseworthy thing in itself.
Not a surprise: figures do not correspond
That the figures from the accounting system do not correspond with those from the data warehouse should not surprise the seasoned BI consultant. Every data warehouse project has these issues. I could sympathize with him in a way and gently said that there are always multiple versions of the truth in a company. After all, each department has its own perspective and its own role in the overall business process. Before I could finish my piece, he interrupted me and said he wanted a solution once and for all.
I have never heard a CFO say that!
I listened to him with increasing amazement. He suggested: “let us only record transactions in the data warehouse that occur in the bookkeeping system”. I have never heard a CFO say that; I could not believe my ears. In one fell swoop, the CFO wanted to sweep the added value of Business Intelligence off the table (he was a heavy user of Tableau that was extracting data directly from his bookkeeping system). Because with that, all transactions from the DWH which had not ‘made it’ to the finish line would be excluded (see figure). The DWH would be very lean indeed!
A serious obstacle to organizational improvement
Fortunately, in the room there was a whiteboard near to this old school CFO. Unasked, I grabbed a marker pen and sketched the primary business process: from marketing to financial reporting and accountability (accounting). Moments later, the whiteboard displayed a funnel. Then I ‘stuck’ a rectangular tube on it and wrote: “the ideal data warehouse for the CFO?” That ‘rectangle’ would constitute a straitjacket for the data warehouse and thus seriously hamper organizational improvement.
The key to truly successful BI
For precisely where the really exciting things happen in the process, including the KPIs in the heart of it, he seemed to want to have none of it. There where BI can teach us how the differences between process steps arise – for example, the damage claimed by customer and the damages paid to him -, is that not the key to highly successful BI? Combining datasets from different sources and analyzing, combining and visualising those differences? And learning from this how to improve processes and better serve customers.
It was nice to notice moments later that this perception had been completely overturned!