Friday, August 29, 2008

It Just Has to Work

imageHave you ever had the experience where you are hunting within your favourite BI portal for how to do such a simple thing like sending a link to a report to your business analyst? Have you ever wanted to scream at your monitor that "It shouldn't be this hard!!!"?

Welcome to the lack of attention to design that blights many BI portal implementations!

If we take a lesson from Google, we see the opportunity to focus on core functionality and to not over-engineer our BI implementations. The one frustrating thing I noticed when I started using Google's online tools was that I couldn't find out what the application was capable of without the standard menu bar we are used to in traditional desktop applications. Now I am a died in the wool IT geek, so I am definitely the exception in this case. Most users just want to do the basics and find all the options overwhelming.

Another point on designing for simplicity is that over time I found the Google suite does have advanced functionality. The key is that I didn't have the option to launch the piece of functionality until I needed it. The application was aware of my context, and showed me what I needed when I needed it. Thankfully we are starting to see more attention to design in software, Microsoft has started the quest for a simpler design with the ribbon bar in Office 2007.

This applies to BI in 2 ways, first the design from the vendor, and then the design of your information architecture. We need to demand from our vendors that they pay close attention to their user interface design, to understand how users interact with the software. and customize the interface accordingly. To continue the widespread adoption of BI information in the enterprise, it is critical that we design for the basic user, but still provide the functionality for the power user. When we place our own organization's information architecture on top of our BI platforms we need to ensure we continue this attention to design, so that we can make the information easier and more intuitively to navigate.

Keep it as simple as possible, and your key measures for use of your BI portal will leap off the chart!


P.S. We all have stats on our BI portal usage don't we? ;)

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Community Rules

I get a lot of value from reading other's blogs / articles and posting my thoughts to this blog. I would jump at the opportunity to give back to the virtual BI community on topics that interest you folks.

If you have any topics / questions you would like me to address, please let me know by commenting on this post.


Where the Business meets BI

My education and early professional career was deeply rooted in the IT world. We worried about how to keep the database running efficiently, and the best way to build a reporting portal (in the old days we built ASP pages for every single report we developed). As my career matured over the years it became apparent to me that I had to understand the business side of the equation to be truly effective. This brings to mind one of the challenges we all face as leaders of Business Intelligence initiatives, where can we find the right people?

We have the distinct need within Business Intelligence to fully understand what problem the business is trying to solve, and then to understand what data is available to solve the problem. I've heard many great ideas from the business that would add a lot of value to the organization, but the data is simply not available or is of questionable quality. This is where the role of the Business Intelligence Analyst comes into play. For the purposes of this post, the BI Analyst is the person that gathers requirements from the business and then works with the IT teams to deliver the information. (I've seen about 6 different roles described when talking about a Analyst role on a BI team).

A black belt BI Analyst has 2 distinct areas of expertise:
  1. Business knowledge - Deep understanding of the business processes and models is necessary to properly "interpret" what the users are looking for.
  2. Data knowledge - An understanding of not only the data structures that are available, but how the business processes interact with the source systems which eventually filter into the data we have available to BI.

This blend of skills and expertise requires a very specific type of person. If I was to describe the qualities of a BI Analyst, the following comes to mind:

  • Hyper-analytical - Able to apply critical thinking skills to get to the heart of the problem
  • Diplomatic - Being able to guide the business in the right direction without telling them their idea won't work...8)
  • Passionate - To truly get to the heart of a problem requires tenancity and buy-in to the organization's goals

The BI Analyst is a critical component of any BI initiative regardless where in the organization this role sits. Without the proper attention to requirements and desired outcomes, a project as complicated as a typical BI initiative is very likely to fail or to fall short of our client's expectations. One of the best sources for a BI Analyst, is within the business units we serve. You likely have someone working in the business that has the right type of analytical mind set to be a "black belt"!


This is a personal weblog, and does not represent the thoughts, intentions, plans or strategies of my employer.