Business Users Don’t Know What They Want When It Comes to BI

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by Saar Bitner

It’s a typical starting point: Business users give IT a set of data, questions and requirements at the beginning of a BI project. But as they investigate and explore data, users return with a request for more data, deeper questions, and new requirements. Frustrating? Maybe. But the fact that business users do not know what they want when it comes to BI is not due to any shortcoming of the business user or complexity of the BI project at hand. This is the way business intelligence should be.

Adjusting Great Expectations

Though users generally know the overarching strategic KPIs, starting a BI project when users don’t know all the KPIs they want to measure in advance is not only common, but can be expected. The problem arises when the process of adding or changing requirements to a BI project is not expected from the technical department, and the BI tool won’t let users independently makes those changes.

A first step to creating realistic expectations for any BI project is to understand some big issues that can arise:

  • Change of requirements during the lifecycle of the project
  • Expressing requirements incorrectly or including needless requirements
  • Business users do not know what they want or can expect from a BI solution
  • Increased workload on IT department; Loss of independence by business department

IT Is From Mars

To elaborate on the last point, technical departments often get frustrated with the fact that business users just can’t commit to BI specifications. They feel as though no one on the business side has the time to work out all the details beforehand in order for the BI solution to function the way they want it to. IT is then stuck constantly reworking new requirements and the modeling, while business users are unrealistic with the time-frame to implement their requests.

Business Is From Venus

On the other end, business users are frustrated that they can’t make quick decisions and get the changes and tweaks they need in an actionable timeframe. They start viewing IT as a bottleneck that takes too much time to deliver.

While business users rightfully wonder why IT expects that the BI project would never require any changes, they should really start asking: why are BI tools built to require IT involvement every step of the way when true business intelligence needs to be agile.

Why Self-Service Is All About Timing

It’s exactly this need for greater independence to explore data, ask questions, and make changes that fuels the latest demand for self-service or agile business intelligence. Making data-driven decisions depends on the ability to ask new questions and receive answers in an actionable timeframe–and if users don’t have access to data, or need help from IT every time they want to ask a new question, no one is able to make quick, fact-based decision.

The key to resolving this BI pain is to choose a business intelligence tool that is self-service and gives business users access to all the data. Then users can independently discover what they want to measure, and measure it without having to wait for IT to deliver the data they need.

The Triple A’s: Defining Self-Service BI

In order to really evaluate self-service BI, there are certain prerequisites that enable independence even in the face of challenges that limit it. Self-service BI means that a user can accomplish any data analysis task from start to finish within an actionable timeframe and without help from anyone. By examining the triple “A” requirements that users need in order to perform any data analysis, you can learn a lot about the BI capabilities that enable independence:

Access to data: Users need access to all the relevant data, including the ability to manage any amount, form or type of data. A prerequisite for this is automatic data preparation (ETL) capabilities to ensure the data is in a correct format to analyze.

Ask any question: The BI tool must allow business users to create any queries, and get accurate results. The real challenge behind this is for business users to be able to generate advanced queries without coding skills.

Agile response to change: As we’ve established, your business environment is in a state of flux. Users should be able to independently respond to changes in requirements.

Practicing Being Agile

The ability to measure data independently translates into a power that leads more people across an organization to pose business questions. A BI tool with technology powerful enough to give the business user access to all data, as well as the data exploration capabilities to ask any question to any piece of data, is a self-service BI tool.

A company that practices agile BI is a company where business users can gain the insights they need, when they need them, all without having to go through IT cycles when a new question emerges. Agile is about the flexibility to explore data, quickly.

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