Single-warehouse strategy pays off for housing department bureaus

Single-warehouse strategy pays off for housing department bureaus

By Patricia Daukantas

GCN Staff

Consolidating data in a single departmentwide warehouse makes the data more consistent and creates a cost-effective backbone for electronic services delivery, the Housing and Urban Development Department's chief information officer said this month.

The downside is that HUD's single-warehouse strategy required overcoming internal resistance, CIO Gloria Parker said at a data warehousing conference in Arlington, Va., sponsored by the Data Administration Management Association of the North East Region.

'When I first started talking about data warehousing in the federal government, a lot of people used to look at me kind of strange,' Parker said. In her early years with the government, which included a tour at the Education Department, many people considered data warehousing a private-sector technology geared to marketing.

One of the forces driving the 34-year-old housing department's reliance on its warehouse is a growing demand for government services, Parker said. At the same time, HUD's work force is shrinking.

Secretary Andrew Cuomo's HUD 2020 Management Reform program emphasizes giving workers access to decision support tools to help them do their jobs and be accountable to the public, Parker said.

She stressed that warehousing 'does not mechanize reports that count things' or provide analyses only to senior officials. 'What a real data warehouse will do is allow you to drill down and pull all the information together and explain what a piece of data means, not just present a piece of data,' Parker said.

'In a world where we have cut back on people resources, more and more people have to be in a position to make decisions, not just senior officials,' she said. 'Everybody has to have access to a data warehouse to make decisions, to be accountable, to take ownership of their areas of responsibility.'

Warehousing means an endless cycle of assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation, Parker said. 'As new requirements come into the department, you have to be able to move those into your warehouse and continue that iterative process.'

HUD users rely on the warehouse for budgeting, grant disbursements, and program effects on the environment and communities. One key constituency is HUD's staff of so-called community builders in remote offices who deal directly with state and local officials.

Having a single source for HUD information helps the department communicate with its external partners such as local governments, housing authorities and mortgage lenders'a feat Parker likened to the Rosetta stone, which was used to decipher dead languages.

'Had someone not put together all the different languages on the Rosetta stone, we would never have been able to figure out the communication of those different cultures,' she said. 'We have all these partners, and the partners have different languages.'

Citizens access warehoused HUD information via the department's Web site to learn about fair housing laws, community development and opportunities for the homeless, Parker said.

If an agency deploys data warehousing without controls, she warned, multiple warehouses will spring up. As the concept grew in popularity, individual HUD business areas started converting their legacy systems into warehouses for loan, grant and geographical data, leading to multiple stovepipes.

'You can't have everyone in charge' of a data warehouse, Parker said. Under Cuomo's one HUD strategy, each program area now has an appointed data steward who works with the CIO's data management team to ensure consistency of data.

'No more do we send reports over to Congress that say two or three or four different things,' Parker said.

Another speaker, Ralph Kimball, president of Kimball Associates of Boulder Creek, Calif., and co-inventor of the early Xerox Star workstation that pointed the way to desktop computers with graphical interfaces, stressed the importance of dimensional architecture in structuring what he called the data webhouse.

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