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If you want a successful BI implementation, know your users

For a successful BI deployment, you must understand how people will use the BI tools. With this knowledge, you can add the necessary functionality and update business processes accordingly.

The goal of a business intelligence platform is to give an organization a way to achieve its goals by monitoring metrics, discovering efficiencies and creating a more productive workforce. These benefits are realized as more and more members of an organization take advantage of tools available in the chosen platform.

As such, one primary objective of those who manage a BI implementation is to ensure that as many people as possible use the deployment to find information and make decisions. To reach this objective, you must understand who, within your organization, is a possible user. Only then can you ensure that you have the right tools and message for how those users can take advantage of the tools available, as well as the right relationship with those users to continually improve the deployment to meet their needs.

The tactical: Small actions for a larger purpose

The first group of users are those who need information to support team, project or group initiatives. These users are interested in gathering information that specifically supports their short-term needs so they can complete tasks designed to support long-term goals. Usually, these needs are short-lived and are there to support organizational goals.

One pixelDyché: BI technology investments require a
message and a messenger

A member of this group might be someone in human resources who is analyzing employee satisfaction and defining new benefits to raise those satisfaction levels above 90%, or it could be a customer service manager who is reviewing support incidents raised by a specific customer so he can provide a summary for an executive meeting. A warehouse manager who is looking at cutting costs for building products by consolidating or changing part suppliers may also be a member of this group.

In every case, the objective is the same. A specific organizational goal is being supported by one-off informational needs. These one-off data points will be gathered, analyzed and then compiled into a narrative that explains how a business process needs to change to achieve a defined organizational goal.

The operational: The routine business process

Users in the second group are those who need to support existing business processes through the use of information. These needs are ongoing, and though new requirements may be added as the business process evolves and matures, the information presented will be in the same format every time. This is an important part of operational data. It is essential that the presentation of information be consistent. This way, there is no confusion with how it is interpreted from one hour, day or week to the next.

These users could be customer service managers who need to know their most and least productive support staff. This information will lead to conversations about how to become more productive, awards and recognition for those most productive, and potential corrective action for those not doing their part for the organization.

The users could be doctors who need to review patient information from a previous visit so they can tailor their approach for the current patient visit. If they prescribed a drug last time, these users want to ensure that they don't prescribe a new medication that could negatively interact with the current drug being taken.

The users also could be managers of an assembly line, who may need to monitor process improvements that were realized as part of project analysis performed by those users in the tactical group above.

This brings us to an important part of leveraging a BI deployment. Information and visualizations used by one group can be reused or repurposed for another group. Because the informational needs in the tactical group were one-off needs, it doesn't mean that the particular view of the information is short-lived. If a project is successful at discovering efficiencies or ways to become more productive, then that data should be used as a baseline for how the organization will improve a business process going forward. As such, using the same view of the data is a critical step toward consistency and reducing confusion.

Reusing information could also flow the other way. A manager who is leveraging operational data to run his department or team may conclude that the team could be made more productive by eliminating one step in a business process or one tool being used by the staff. This data would then move on to a team in the tactical group where they would determine if this conclusion is correct and cost effective.

The strategic: Long-term interests and goals

Users in the final group are those who need to make decisions that will affect the organization's long-term direction. These users will likely be business analysts who report directly to the executive suite; managers who put together analyses of their department for long-term planning; or executives themselves as they gather information for the next big phase in their company's growth.

The views required by this group of users will traverse different operational data sets that contain both transactional and historic data. This will be required because the decisions being made are related to employee compensation, focus on different sales channels, investigations of new markets or product direction, and even acquisitions of existing partners or competitors.

Throughout these different categories of users no mention has been made of power users, casual users, periodic users or any of the other traditional categories of users. This is because users can fluctuate in which tools they use and how they use those tools based upon what role they are in at any given point in a day or week. It is more important to understand how your potential users want to use the BI deployment to support company goals. This will prepare you to add the right data sources, data mining tools, data cleansing tools, visualization tools or any other tools now considered part of a BI suite.

About the author
Coy Yonce is principal technical architect at EV Technologies. To learn more about how to track the effectiveness of your analytics platform, check out 
his blog posts; read about Sherlock, EV Technologies' tool for gathering the above metrics; or read Yonce's latest article in TDWI's Business Intelligence Journal.

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