Monday, October 6, 2008

Data Governance and Chicken Parmesan

With the tough economy and shrinking 401K’s, some of my co-workers at Trillium are starting to cut back a bit in personal spending. They talk about how expensive everything is and speak with regret if they don’t bring a lunch instead of buying one at the Trillium cafeteria. Until now, I’ve kept quiet about this topic and waited politely until the conversation turned to say, fantasy football. But between you and me, I don’t agree that there is a huge cost savings with making your own.

Case in point – this weekend, I got the urge to cook a nice chicken parmesan dinner for my family. This time, I was going to make the tomato sauce from scratch and not use the jarred stuff. A trip to the local market to buy all the ingredients for the meal probably cost $12 for the tomatoes, pasta, chicken, breading and spices. There were transportation costs – I spent abut $1.50 on half a gallon of gas. Then, I came home at 2:30 PM and cooked until 5:30, slowly simmering the sauce and using electricity on my stove. So let’s say I used an extra $.50 in electricity. It’s difficult to account for my time. I could have been working on the honey-do list, thus saving me from having to pay someone to do it. Hopefully, that plumbing problem will keep until next weekend. I even could have worked at a minimum wage job at $8/hour or about $24.

When I add up all the hidden costs, the chicken parmesan easily cost me $35-40. Meanwhile, a local restaurant has chicken parmesan for $15.99… and it’s pretty darn good… and it comes with a loaf of homemade bread.

Now I’m sure many of you are asking – what does this have to do with data governance? Everything! When you begin to develop your plan and strategies for your data governance initiative, you have to think about cooking your own or ordering out. Does it make sense to build your own data profiling and data quality processes, or does it make sense to buy one? Will you be pushing off the plumbing to make the meal – in other words, will a more manual home-grown data governance initiative take your team away from necessary tasks that will require emergency service later? Does it make sense to have a team work on hand-coding database extractions and transformation, or would the total economics be better if you bought an ETL tool and focused their time on other pursuits?

Restaurants can sell chicken parmesan for $15.99 and still make a profit because they have the system of making it that uses economy of scale. They buy ingredients cheaper, and because they use the sauce in other dishes, have ‘reusability’ working for them, too. They use the sauce in their eggplant parmesan, spaghetti with meatballs, and many other dishes, and that reuse is powerful. Most of the high-end technologies you choose for your company have to have the same reusability as the sauce for the maximum benefit. Using data quality technologies that only plug into SAP, for example, when your future data governance projects may lead you to Oracle and Tibco and Siperian just doesn’t make sense.

One other consideration - what if something goes wrong with my homemade chicken parmesan? I had little recourse if my own home-cooked solution were to go up in flames, except to get into even more expense and order out. But if the restaurant chicken parmesan is bad, you can call them and they’ll make me another one at no charge. Likewise, you have contractual recourse when a vendor solution doesn’t do what they say it will.

If you’re thinking of cooking up your own technical solutions for data governance hoping to save a ton of money, think again. Your most economical solution might just be to order out.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own and don't necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer. The material written here is copyright (c) 2010 by Steve Sarsfield. To request permission to reuse, please e-mail me.