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Single Version of the Truth: Attainable Goal or Fool's Gold?

Single Version of the Truth: Attainable Goal or Fool's Gold?

Read Stephen J. Smith's Companion Article: Single Version of Truth: Not Optional

People need a single version of the truth for many reasons. Here is a small, non exhaustive list:

  • Multiple source systems
  • Multiple datamarts
  • Spreadmarts
  • No consolidation of the data

While we could break these down, they lead to the same problem; the possibility that more than one version of the “truth” could emerge from multiple places.

A customer could be listed in several different systems. He could be in a sales system and a customer relationship system, for example. The same could be said for sales data. It could exist in a sales spreadsheet and in the company’s finance database. Why is this an issue? There is no guarantee that the systems are in sync. Out of sync systems and out of sync databases breed out of sync execs when they make reports before their boards.

Guess what? Companies STILL have this problem today, even some that have invested in a data warehouse. But I have a shocker for you. If you are looking for the answer, look no further than the McDonalds down the street! Yes, that’s right, those burger flipping geniuses have done it again, kinda. 

I know what you’re thinking, “I think this pharaoh guy is spending too much time in the desert, overheated on a camel or something,” but hear me out. We can argue over the “goodness” of a McDonalds burger and the quality of their product. Some would say great and others may say toxic. But there is no debate about the WAY in which they arrive at their product:

  • Simplification
  • Standardization
  • Specialization

Do you think your BI team, or analytics implementation could take a note out of McDonald’s book and have a system/tool/program that is simple in concept, standard across the board (not 42 different tools being used), and specialized in certain areas? Even though I believe in robust Enterprise Data Warehouses that include 50 or 60 sources, I try not to show all of those metrics at once on the CEOs dashboard in a pie chart. Keep in mind, people don’t care about big data, they care about little answers to small questions.

So, what do we do?

Stop writing reports and start doing business intelligence! If your analytics team is focused on being a report mill, you have missed the mark. And after a while you may be missing a paycheck because self service tools are flooding the market and you are probably slowing down your user community by making them come to you for reports. Stop focusing on building the end result so much and focus more on what legos should be built to allow the users to build things they have yet to think of.

Let’s give things “A” change

Neil Armstrong uttered a famous quote on his moon mission: “One step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The only problem is he messed up the quote. Maybe he was nervous, maybe the lights in the studio were a little too bright. Who knows? But the quote SHOULD have been “one small step for ‘A’ man, one giant leap for mankind.” This makes much more sense…. That “A” is important, I guess Fonzie was on to something.

Maybe we should insert it into our quote and see what happens; single version of “A” truth. Hmmm….. Let’s explore. Part of the reason the single version of the truth is so elusive is because (if we are all honest with ourselves) people really don’t want it. THEY CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH! I’ve been wanting to put that in an article for years. In every area of life there are multiple ways of looking at things. For example, what makes a family successful? Is it just one thing? Are there times when a family member may disagree on the happiness or success of their own family unit? Of course, but we don’t question it. 

Why should business be different? There are several ways of counting customers, for example. A CFO may only count customers where the service has been delivered. A sales manager may count all the sales and potential sales while accounts receivable counts them as the checks cash. They are all valid and different ways of looking at the business.

What most companies will do is lock managers up in a room for a couple of days and try to have them agree on what a customer is. STOP THAT, bad BI person. Instead, build area specific dashboards, especially at the exec level. One way to stop CEOs from getting different reports from different areas is to eliminate the need for them to receive reports, put the info on a dashboard that fits on their phone.

I would like to leave you with a few tips of the trade.

  • Agree on the micro, stop trying to boil the ocean
  • Define small (but important) areas.
  • Make data available widely and easily (without comprising security)
  • Report where people are (if they use their phone and not a computer, go mobile)
  • Let the dashboard help define the metric
  • Standardize on tools, only have one if possible 

Technically speaking a single version of the truth is possible, just not always practical or feasible. Hopefully you can put some of these ideas to work in your own environments to take your company to the next level.

Don’t Worry B-- I---

Read Stephen J. Smith's Companion Article: Single Version of Truth: Not Optional

DeWayne Washington

DeWayne Washington is a senior consultant with 20+ years of experience in BI and Analytics in over 2 dozen verticals. He is the author of the book More About DeWayne Washington