Warehouse Woes

<a href="displayarticle.asp?ID=4219931521PM"><img src="archive/1999/pics/laberis990421.jpg" border="0" align="right"></a><b>A column by Bill Laberis</b><br>Last year’s salary survey from the Data Warehouse Institute showed the average data warehousing professional earned $74,371, with an average bonus of $12,433. The survey characterizes the demand for experienced warehouse professionals as great. One can conclude that this year’s salary survey, currently being compiled, will show a healthy increase from the current lofty pay scales.

Last year’s salary survey from the Data Warehouse Institute showed the average data warehousing professional earned $74,371, with an average bonus of $12,433. The survey characterizes the demand for experienced warehouse professionals as great. One can conclude that this year’s salary survey, currently being compiled, will show a healthy increase from the current lofty pay scales.

So how does a data warehousing professional’s paycheck stack up against others in the IT area? Computerworld's 12th Annual Salary Survey published last fall pegs the average pay for a data base analyst at $48,100; for a network administrator at $46,300; and for a senior programmer/analyst at $54,500.

Not until the title of director of networks, with an average salary of $72,400, do the pay scales rival the data warehouse clique. Network directors are the ones who sleep with stereo beepers, and I use the word "sleep" loosely.

The salaries of warehouse men and women only begin to tell the expense story of the data warehouse experiment. Add to the human resources component the additional outlays committed for hardware, software, networking, and outside services. The combination brings the total spent on warehouses in the U.S. over the last four years to about $23 billion, according to estimates.

And these outlays have been directed primarily at setting up the warehouse infrastructure, before deriving the potential benefits of the warehouse. But we should be at the stage now where companies can reap the rewards of that $23 billion seeding.

Here’s where I start to ask some questions. Just what is the warehouse payoff? Why do we read so little about data warehousing today, contrasted with the warehouse stories that appeared week after week in the major trade publications a couple of years ago?

The first thing that makes me suspicious that the payoff might not be so prodigious -- the worse case -- or easily measured -- best case -- is the recent effort to add a new buzz phrase to the already overstuffed IT lexicon: business intelligence. This is what is supposed to be derived from the warehouse efforts.

Business intelligence is, in essence, a set of solutions, tools, practices and strategies that enables organizations to exploit their information tucked away in warehouses for bottom-line benefits. Business intelligence is supposed to address the information needs of mainstream business managers and workers and provides them with the means to use information to improve business performance in each functional area.

But business intelligence is more than software and tools. It is supposed to be the highest order expression of information systems doing what they are supposed to do, and that is support business processes and strategic business planning.

So what are these tools and practices? I have to say, for a "new" concept like business intelligence they have hauntingly familiar rings to them, such as online analytical processing or OLAP; data mining; and that most obnoxiously vague IT buzz phrase knowledge management. Is there anything new about these?

Despite the warehouse’s promise or gimmickry, the people who control the purse strings of IT are slipping into a Y2K funk that could result in serious spending cuts for the second half of this year, perhaps stretching into next year. Justifying IT outlays in such a climate will demand a highly polished form of proving return-on-investment.

For the record, I do believe the billions spent setting up warehouses and getting them ready for something more than enhanced data access can pay off for the enterprise. But I think IT has done a lousy job articulating, if not quantifying, what those benefits are. And consultants, well they’ve done an excellent job of creating buzz words.

For example, e-commerce and Web business in general has resulted in extraordinary amounts of customer data being captured. The warehouse concept and the business intelligence tool sets provide the ability to do a lot more than just store that data. They can yield the kind of instant, dynamic analysis that business strategists have needed to make cogent strategy decisions on the fly.

If you need help justifying your warehouse and the additional means of keeping it going and growing, there is help available. The non-profit Data Warehouse Institute, referenced at the start, is one source of aid. Maybe it can help justify that fat warehouse salary, too. --Bill Laberis is president of Bill Laberis Associates Inc. (Holliston, Mass.) and former editor-in-chief of Computerworld. Contact him at bill@laberis.com.