Tips for Building Data Integration's Business Case

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Top Ten Best Practices for Data Integration

Use these guidelines to help you achieve more modern, high-value and diverse uses of DI tools and techniques.

I'm not sure how often data integration projects require a separate business case. I know the tendency is for IT to think in projects, and for integration to be considered a tactical part of these projects-business intelligence, for instance. So, I suspect data integration is more often than not one part of a larger project.


I've had quite a few conversations over the years about the strategic value of integration, but I realized recently precious few of the interviews or the items I've read speak directly to how you make the business case for data integration on its own. Yes, there's been a lot of discussion about involving the business and how data integration can solve business problems. But there's just not a ton of discussion about the nitty-gritty writing of an actual business case.


The Business Case Checklist offers 12 fundamental questions that should be asked when writing any business case. You can read the full list in this free downloadable excerpt from IT Business Edge, but when it comes to data integration, I think there are two tricky questions that deserve a closer look: What are the benefits of the investment? How did we value the investment?


Recently, David Linthicum tackled the issue of identifying the underlying value and benefits for data integration investments on Pervasive Software's blog. The Texas-based company sells integration solutions, so you can see why this is a good topic for them. (Full disclosure: Pervasive sent me a Christmas gift box with hot sauces and crackers from Texas, including Stubb's Barbecue sauce, which happens to be a family favorite. I kept it because I was too busy to send it back and my husband got into it. We were out of Stubbs, but not pork loin. I'd like to think I'm not that easy to influence, but I must say the crackers were tasty.)


At any rate, it's a good topic for you, too, because Linthicum offers three "value points" to consider when you're trying to put a value on data integration.


First, look at the value of eliminating inefficiencies in your data. This can include the obvious costs-such maintaining too many servers with duplicate data or the cost of mailing a catalog twice to the same customer under different names-but Linthicum urges you to think more broadly and include soft issues, such as better customer service. You can quickly find the right information or better employee morale and time usage because they're not battling bad data.


Second, consider the value of information, and more specifically, the value of having the right information of at the right time. This is where you should put on your strategic thinking hat and consider how data integration enables sales people to upsell a customer or simply close a deal because their information is current and precise. He provides a good example based on selling a car.


Third, consider the value of agility. This can be tricky to define, he writes, and will depend on how much your industry depends on agility.


As always, to really drill down and thoroughly examine the business case, you must involve business leaders from the beginning and take an enterprise-wide view of integration, rather than thinking on a per-project basis.


For more on identifying integration's value, you might want to check out my interview with Linthicum. It's from 2009, but still relevant.


Finally, you should also take to heart another piece of advice from John Schmidt, author and vice president of Informatica's Global Integration Services, and do the math.


IT hates to calculate return on investment and other financial metrics, but sometimes you've just got to put on your grown-up pants, pull out the pocket calculator and, as Schmidt put it:

... do the hard work to translate qualitative benefits into measurable business results.'Better, faster, cheaper' sounds great-but if you can't measure it then you can't manage it and you are in effect asking management for approval on faith.

It was true when he wrote it in 2009 and it's still true now.