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Friday, September 25, 2009

BI and the Tools of Diplomacy: Summits and Treaties

In my last post I explored the importance of language & communication in diplomacy and, by extension, the BI practice. In this post I'd like to consider two more tools of diplomacy and how they can be applied to the BI practice.

The Summit

A Summit provides a forum where all sides have the opportunity to speak directly with each other in a highly focused and most importantly, face-to-face format. In today's business environment it is too easy to fall victim to the limitations of email, telephone or even video communications. Even with the best video conference, few mediums of communication replace the extraordinarily "high bandwidth" of physical presence. (As an example within BI Consulting Group's experience, read my colleague Ed Martin's recent post reporting on our company-wide Summit held last week in Minneapolis.)

But common focus is also important. Well-organized summits often have a stated purpose agreed upon by all participants before or immediately at commencement. Sometimes ground rules even require that participants not leave until specified goals are met (think the Catholic Church's "White Smoke" summit -- or Conclave -- of Cardinals that elects a new Pope).

Of course a typical run-of-the-mill business meeting is a similar exercise... But when signficant, concrete progress must be made between parties of disparate backgrounds, framing the discussion in the specific terms of a Summit can be an effective way of setting the stage for the quality of interactions that will ensue.

The Treaty

The ultimate formal goal of any diplomatic effort is the execution of an agreement between all parties that sets specific parameters for behavior. The most obvious parallels in the BI practice are requirements documents, functional specs and service level agreements. In each case, the agreement clearly specifies the "rules" under which the signatories are required to behave.

In BI of course, one of the actors is the technology itself. In a Treaty, individual countries are held accountable for the performance of their borders, regulations and tarriff; in a Service Level Agreement, the IT support staff is accountable for the timely and stable operations of servers and applications. Well-written Treaties, SLAs and really any legal contract are useful to all signatories because they clearly define the expected performance of each participant and actions to be taken when that performance is breached. But the key concept is "well-written" -- a good agreement is clear and specific but not so obtuse that a lawyer is needed to interpret it.

An important component of an effective BI "Treaty" is the data validation report. A good BI implementation will include data audit reports -- confirmed as authoritative by all parties -- that compare warehoused data against source transactional data. These audit reports serve as the arbiters of performance that determine objectively and decisively whether the warehouse (in the "Tech Nation") is holding up its end of the Treaty by correctly reflecting source data (coming from the "Business Nation").

I plan to explore more tools of diplomacy in posts to come (trying to work "the Spy" into this discussion!), but as usual, in the meantime I'd love to hear your feedback and especially any other examples of Treaties and Summits in the BI practice.