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War Stories

John Platten is a data management consultant with 20+ years experience delivering practical data solutions to major corporations.   Here he describes some of the stand-out challenges encountered in his career.


My complete data management experience is in my CV, available under the menu.  I picked out the following as being beyond the ordinary. They also illustrate why I don't have that much time for data management "academics":   Theory is fine as far as it goes, but the best data management consultants always have war stories to tell.


T-Mobile ERP Migrations

John served as Data Migration Manager, Data Cleanse Manager, Business Analyst and Data Migration Developer when One2One became T-Mobile and moved to parent company Deutsche Telekom's preferred SAP platform.  

A particular issue we encountered was in the migration of the project (PS) module.    T-Mobile had expressed a desire to remodel their project plans during the migration itself.   In some cases plan steps that were one way round before migration ended up the other way round after migration.

I had initially hoped to pass the actual development to a subcontracted MS Access developer.   Unfortunately the spaghetti like mappings of remapped plan steps became so complex that I decided it was actually impossible to hand off to someone else as the communication of requirements had itself arisen as a major delivery risk.   I rolled my sleeves up and just got in with it, alongside co-developer Roger Clark.

My key memory of this was Roger was quiet, with his head down all morning, when suddenly at about 11 am he cried out in anguish and started banging his head against the desk.   I asked him what the matter was and said "I worked all the logic through from the beginning right through to the end and this time I understood every small piece of it".   "That sounds great" I said "What's the problem with that?"   He answered: "Just in my moment of triumph, when I understood the end of it, I realised I had completely forgotten how the beginning worked again!"

...That was quite a data transformation, that was.

In the end careful unit testing of the steps rather than sending out for bigger brain capacities got us both there on our respective legacy extracts and it was a great success.

GlaxoSmithkline SAP Data Migration

John was the Data Migration Manager for Ware and Export Supplies sites, co-Manager for Barnard Castle.   The project was delivered on time in one of the largest simultaneous site go lives ever attempted (there were five other managers putting parallel sites live on the same SAP hub system, across the same week).  The positive outcome of this 'biggest of bangs' was a credit to all involved.  

The biggest achievement of the migration managers was delivering such in a high compliance environment.  

Towards the end of the project it became apparent that we were succeeding in the technical work, but falling behind in locating managers for the mandatory sign-offs.   I solved this by drawing inspiration from the film industry and hiring two students as 'runners'.  Their job was to apply an extra burst of leg power to our delivery.   Crazy - but it worked and we were able to deliver both the migration itself (easy) and the Good Manufacturing Practises paper mountain that went with it (not so very easy at all).

Shell Refinery Products Model

Shell had produced a data model for oil products but an extension was required into bulk refinery products such as petrol grades and bitumen.  i.e. oil products that are delivered in tanks and drums, not packets.

I was tasked with achieving this and a series of meetings were held in Amsterdam with experts drawn from the Shell business around Europe. 

Unfortunately, despite my best efforts we simply couldn't come up with a model that worked - every time we had a method of laying out products that was technically precise (one place and one place only where each product could sit) it was hated on sight by the business. 

Finally one of the business people took me aside and showed me his own sketch.  It was a refining column, with the light products at the top and the heavy at the bottom.  The modelling experts on the team did did not like it because there were a few mid weight products that could technically fit in more than one slot in this hierarchy, but realised what we had been given and overruled them. 

"This is what is in the heads of the business experts.  They know where the products fit because they know refining.  We see ambiguity here but for them it is relative certainty".  

In one short month we toured UK, France, Germany and Holland and had populated the entire model that had frustrated us for about six previously.  

I actually received a standing ovation when I gave the summary that closed out the project and delivered the model  - a genuine spontaneous standing ovation from the clients.  

I would love to say I have had similar since, but then again... perhaps it is better to not get a  project so far down a hole that the stakeholders applaud when we escape it !

Data Warehousing

Depending on how data marts or warehouses are counted John has delivered 10 to 20 warehouses and secured over 50 supplying interfaces.  Clients include Shell Chemicals, Glaxo (twice), Toyota Motor Insurance.   I have less to tell about these for the present as creating the models is relatively straightforward.   ...It's always the data feeds and transformations where the issues start!   That's how I ended up specialising in getting things like that right.

E-FIT Police Facial Composite System

In a previous career as Lead Developer and Technical Director John designed, developed and delivered the leading police facial composite system E-FIT, used by police forces throughout the world and often seen on BBC Crimewatch and in UK newspapers.  

...No relevance to data management?

Delivering products, as opposed to projects, in a competitive commercial environment taught me the importance of will-power and tenacity.   The market does not give second chances.   Delivering too slowly or to the wrong priorities is final.  

E-FIT has survived over 20 years as a market leading product and continues to be used operationally in UK alongside successor E-FITv..

"The best data management consultants all have war stories to tell"


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