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And a Sawyer Takes the Pot

Originally published March 4, 2010

Imagine for a moment that you are playing poker with your local gang. By a twist of fate, you are dealt the Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten of Spades. You think to yourself: I am going to win this pot. Nothing beats this hand. You look at the chips that are being thrown in the pot as yours and yours alone. You have it.

Suddenly, the door is thrown open and a man with a sawed off shotgun bursts into the room. Sawed off shotguns are truly frightening things. They are designed for indiscriminate and ugly killing. If you aren’t truly frightened by someone pointing a sawed off shotgun (a “sawyer”) at you, you are crazy. Only Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry does not fear such brutal and reckless armaments. And that is just in the movies.

Needless to say, your poker party stops and the person with the sawyer takes the pot. As good as your poker hand is, someone else takes the pot.

This anecdote relates to an experience I had recently at a corporate site. The name of the corporation and even the industry the corporation is in are not important, so we won’t discuss them here.

We were discussing a data model that was the first step in creating a data warehouse at this corporation. The organization had decided that it needed corporate data. The organization decided that it was spending billions of dollars making decisions on spreadsheets and opinions. When it came to facts, the corporation had nothing reliable, and the management of the corporation was very uncomfortable.

The data model was comprehensive. It had been built with the best information at hand by professionals. By all accounts, it was a good data model, or at least a good starting point for a more complete data model. And, like all data models in their first iteration, it was incomplete and needed to be fleshed out. A user review session was held and one department was called in to review the model and to show what needed to be done to make it more accurate and complete.

It so happened that the department that was invited to review the model was the largest and most profitable organization in the corporation. The review began on a civil note. A discussion ensued about data warehousing and the role and intent of the data model. As part of the discussion, the issue of making the model more complete and more representative of the corporation arose. It was pointed out that one of the purposes of the meeting was to refine the data model.

After about 15 minutes or so, the leader of the department stood up and said –
 “I don’t believe in the data warehouse concept. I don’t believe in data models. I don’t believe in having anyone else in the corporation looking at my data. We have our own budget and we are going our own way. We are not going to cooperate with anyone and we certainly aren’t going to let anyone look at our data.”

And with that, the leader asked his people to get up and leave the meeting.

Corporate politics and an autonomous budget won the day. The corporate sawyer had been played.

So what is wrong with the stonewalling of the effort of becoming a corporation? What is wrong with a little sawyer action in the corporate walls? The truth is that there is plenty wrong. From a philosophical standpoint, if corporate politics are allowed to derail the movement of a corporation becoming a true corporation, then they have prevented the company from reaching its destiny. From the standpoint of compliance, the corporation stands NO CHANCE of ever being compliant with Sarbanes Oxley, HIPAA, Basel II, et al. (And with recent economic events, it is a good bet that SOX, HIPAA and Basel II are just the vanguard of what Wall Street and the government are going to unleash on large corporations.)

And from the standpoint of common sense, being able to use information to act as a corporation makes economic, technical and business sense. A horse with two heads is often confused as to which direction it is heading.

Now it is true that a department that has its own budget and its own autonomy can stop a data warehouse and a data modeling exercise in its tracks. The poor data warehouse architect and the poor data modeler are helpless against someone that simply refuses to be part of the corporation.

At the moment that the ruffian pops through the door with the sawyer, there is little anyone in the room can do (at that moment, at least). But over time, there is the law, there are private detectives and there are even mercenaries that are capable of evening the score with the person who interrupts the poker game with a sawyer. So it goes with corporate bullies who throw tantrums and refuse to become part of the corporation. In the long haul, they will lose the battle even though they have a sawyer. There are tremendous demands for the corporation to truly become a corporation and to act like a corporation that will eventually overcome the power and awe of a sawyer.

  • Bill InmonBill Inmon

    Bill is universally recognized as the father of the data warehouse. He has more than 36 years of database technology management experience and data warehouse design expertise. He has published more than 40 books and 1,000 articles on data warehousing and data management, and his books have been translated into nine languages. He is known globally for his data warehouse development seminars and has been a keynote speaker for many major computing associations.

    Editor's Note: More articles, resources and events are available in Bill's BeyeNETWORK Expert Channel. Be sure to visit today!

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