Shark Tank: Tales of Business Un-Intelligence

Mind Reader

Six weeks into this ill-conceived data warehouse project, everything is behind schedule, says the pilot fish who's the only one working on it. Finance department manager tells him, "You've been working on this for the last six weeks and have not met any of our deadlines. To get a better idea of the current situation, I ask you, what hasn't been completed that we assume you completed?"

Keep trying

This company is looking for a manager with more than 10 years' experience managing database development, says an IT pilot fish who goes after the job.

And he gets it -- no surprise, with fish's 20 years of experience developing and managing corporate databases and data warehouses. His project: to re-engineer all corporate databases and the data warehouse in order to provide consistent data.

"After the re-engineering plan is complete, it takes another six months and two project budgeting cycles to explain it to all the applications managers," says fish.

The project finally gets a green light with a $5 million budget. Fish hires a project manager with more than 10 years' experience in database development, and at last everything is ready to roll.

That's when fish gets a new boss: an IT director fresh from the marketing department. "He has zero database experience, and it takes me two months to bring him up to speed on the basics," says fish.

And once he has? IT director then lays off fish and project director because, he says, "I can now manage this area myself and save money."

Fish is gone but not forgotten -- at least not by the database administrators at the company. "They call me looking to bail out because the IT director is switching the data model and technology every day," fish sighs.

But the project continues, spending more than $2 million before management realizes it's in trouble. "It will now take more than $8 million more to fix the new problems and, in effect, start over," says fish, who's still getting unofficial reports from the inside.

Then, four months after fish was shown the door, he spots the IT director's name at an outplacement office. "He got laid off after he couldn't explain the database work to the CIO," fish says.

And now, after running through one year, $2 million, an IT director, a project manager and the pilot fish, what is the company doing?

Says fish, "They're looking for a new manager with over 10 years' experience managing database development."

Isn't the opportunity to serve reward enough?

It's Super Bowl Sunday, and this sysadmin pilot fish has plans: There's a three-hour drive ahead of him to get to a Super Bowl party in another state.

And even though he's the go-to guy for the data warehouse he supports, that shouldn't be a problem. "Our service-level agreements with that department ran from 6 a.m. through 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and until noon on Saturday," fish says. "Sunday was supposed to be a no-call, no-page day."

But more than an hour after he hits the road, fish realizes he should turn his cell phone on, just in case his wife wants to get in touch with him.

"I saw I had voice mail," fish says. "I had several irate messages from one of the managers in the department we supported, followed by a message from my wife, who said she'd received a really irate call from the same manager, something about not being able to access some database tables, and where the hell was I?"

I'm halfway to a Super Bowl party on my day off, fish thinks. But knowing the dynamics of that user department, he turns the car around.

"I headed home," fish says, "phoned the manager, logged in, figured out that the manager had managed to delete several key files and tables that she needed, and spent a couple hours restoring them from backup."

Next morning, a co-worker mentions that he too fielded an irate call about the data warehouse problem, in his case late Sunday evening after getting home from his own Super Bowl party. "He phoned her up to make sure everything was OK," fish reports.

Fish hears about it again at the Monday afternoon staff meeting, where the head of the data warehouse department praises fish's co-worker for calling to check.

"Hey, what about me?" says fish. "I was halfway to my party, turned around, drove an hour and a half back and spent a couple hours restoring stuff."

"Well," replies the department head, "someone had to do it."

Well, In That Case ...

Big corporatewide data warehouse project. The team decides on Oracle Designer 6.0 for the data modeling and database design. Wait, grumbles the newly formed corporate architecture team, Oracle Designer isn't on our list of approved tools. But the architecture cops finally relent after the data warehouse guys file for an exception and point out that no database design tools of any kind are on the list -- and the architecture guys have no immediate plans to evaluate any.

Wrong Image

Pilot fish stops reading a faxed ad at the point where the data warehousing tool vendor boasts, "We specialize in extracting data from your back end and bringing it to your forefront."

Special Report

The Future of BI

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Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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