Value Of A Roadmap

By Bruce Johnson

Whether you are beginning to develop your analytics program, or re-architecting an existing one, long term success depends on having a right-sized, sound approach, and a realistic plan.

More and more today, in our personal lives and at work, we are looking for quick answers/solutions to our challenges/problems.  In business, organizations and executives make decisions that are linked to quarter by quarter success and oftentimes forego the long-term health of the organization. 

 

What Is A Roadmap

A roadmap should be exactly what you would expect if you were going on a long trip.  It is taking the time to understand the purpose of the trip and what you want to achieve, then coming up with a plan for where you will go, how you will get there, what you will do, and the level of importance for the various pieces of the trip and finally the expected results. 

A roadmap is also something that you use throughout the course of your journey.  You keep it out and refer to it frequently.  Why?  We know that we will run into events or hurdles that will cause us to adapt our plans slightly to get us to where we want to go.  Realistically, you rarely have to change significantly, just reroute your journey a bit.  You might go so far as to say that any roadmap that has you going completely the opposite direction from your business would have been poorly assembled and of little value to begin with.  One of the most common mistakes used by organizations that create a roadmap is to file it away in a drawer and never look at it again. 

A well constructed roadmap will:

  • Touch on the current state of the organization from both a business and technical perspective.  It will cover things like: culture, organization, experience with analytics, level of BI maturity, and readiness.
  • Specify your business goals and strategy that analytics efforts should address. 
  • Key business drivers will be highlighted and clarified.
  • Recommend areas of business focus and back each one up with value that could be achieved.
  • Recommend an oversight strategy based on the unique nature of your organization and the complexity/challenges of your analytical needs.
  • Recommend a strategy for communication of the results and efforts as they progress.
  • Identify key areas required for success based on your organization or focus:
    • Technology – Level of technical solutions and tools based on the uniqueness of your business.
    • Meta data – Many organizations must have meta data solutions but often don’t understand why or the value.
    • Data governance – Is crucial in most companies and critical for all projects in industries like Healthcare.
    • Organizational changes or enhancements – if you do not have a mature analytics organization today, it is very likely that your organization is not structured to handle analytics effectively.  This is always a significant area for both the business and IT to address.
    • Define a high level plan for how to achieve the identified goals and objectives.  This is your visual roadmap, as we would normally think of it.  This should have a breakdown of project groupings that cover the technology identification, infrastructure setup, pilot or prototype efforts, business opportunities, supporting areas and tools (like governance, meta data, auditing/security, etc.).

 

Purpose Of A Roadmap

Too often we find ourselves charged with executing projects that are high priority, very visible, but not planned or thought out for how it fits into a long term vision.  Invariably then, these efforts frequently satisfy a need or two, but neglect to provide a solution that will bring value to the rest of the organization.  As system expansion is demanded and attempted, failures highlight the original flaws or lack of long-term design and planning.  In the long run the original project gets a bad rap, even though it served the purpose.

So why would anyone not go through the effort to have a roadmap?  I think the primary answer goes back to bad experiences of the past.  This type of planning doesn’t need to take years or cost millions of dollars, but past experiences with planning efforts gone awry often causes organizations to skip this phase.  Skipping this planning is a critical mistake that will cause the organization to overspend and result in very little value in comparison to having a sound and feasible plan.

When it comes to analytics, this seems to be even more magnified.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that as organizations build transactional systems, they feel a right to have access to all captured information once those systems are in place.  Frequently, business resources are then frustrated because they just went through the effort to design a system for capturing all the appropriate data and it just shouldn’t be hard to then be able to ask any questions they want of the system.  Ideally, you have already accounted for analytics in a long term plan and can share, with the business, when they will be able to have levels of access and to what data for what analytics.  If not, it is time to start a roadmap planning effort.

 

Keys to building a successful roadmap

Taking the right amount of time to build an appropriate plan that your organization needs to be successful and keep costs down while driving value and learning up, is what everyone should want out of a roadmap effort.  Here are some keys to getting through this effort as quickly as possible, while realizing the output you need.

Skilled Resources – Creating an analytical roadmap requires significant experience in technical architecture, analytics tools, and business analysis techniques.  This unique combination of skills is usually only found in data warehouse architects that have many years of designing solutions for many different types of users.  Basically, they have seen a wide array of possible options and understand when to apply or use an appropriate option.

Strong Sponsorship – In order for any proposed plan to be sold in an organization, an internal leader must be convinced of why they need a plan.  If you have that level of leadership identified and eager to participate, you are in good shape.  If you do not, be very cautious about proceeding with this type of effort until you can acquire that type of support.

Access to the Right Level of Leadership – In order to understand organizational needs and what to target, you must have access to the key business resources you need in a timely and comprehensive manner.  A roadmap without executive interviews is rarely going to garner buy-in or support and thus likely won’t survive to help you get to the destination identified.

Taking the Time to Gather Information – One of the most common areas that will be cut short or eliminated in the course of defining a roadmap is the information gathering.  In other words, someone already has a solution in mind and they only want a technical design and build.  If you have an analytics roadmap, yes, don’t do another one.  However, if you don’t, skipping this step is not worth the short time it takes in comparison to the targeted planning that now ties right to your key business drivers.

Sharing Results and Gaining Support – The last piece of producing a roadmap is creating a presentation that can be taken around the organization to share the findings and recommendations of the effort.  This can be a great educational tool, but it also gets the organization excited and encouraged about the fact that everyone can now see you are on a journey that is rooted back to the business you want to become.  As your journey progresses, the communication should continue.  You won’t be able to convince everyone when you are getting started, but after each stage of your journey is complete and others across the enterprise see success and goals being reached, excitement will foster.

 

Summary

In order to be financially responsible and ensure the business goals and drivers are where time and money is spent, an analytics roadmap is a necessity.  While creating a roadmap is critical, if there is one absolutely critical thing to take from this article, it is the value of using a roadmap on your journey.  It must be a living plan, not a document or picture that is filed away as history.

Once you have a roadmap everyone can see what the overall organization sees as the most critical needs, how you plan on getting there, and when they can expect to see results.

About the Author

Bruce has over 20 years of IT experience focused on data / application architecture, and IT management, mostly relating to Data Warehousing. His work spans the industries of healthcare, finance, travel, transportation, retailing, and other areas working formally as an IT architect, manager/director, and consultant. Bruce has successfully engaged business leadership in understanding the value of enterprise data management and establishing the backing and funding to build enterprise data architecture programs for large companies. He has taught classes to business and IT resources ranging from data modeling and ETL architecture to specific BI/ETL tools and subjects like “getting business value from BI tools”. He enjoys speaking at conferences and seminars on data delivery and data architectures. Bruce D. Johnson is the Managing director of Data Architecture, Strategy, and Governance for Recombinant Data (a healthcare solutions provider) and can be reached at bjohnson@recomdata.com

 
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