Monday, March 16, 2009

Icing the BI Cake with User Experience

The true power of BI is the ability to present actionable information to decision makers.  All the data quality governance, ETL excellence, and dimensional analysis will mean nothing if the business can't intuitively interact with the information through their BI tools.  You must ice the cake with an exceptional User Experience to drive the most value from your BI investments.


A focus on User Experience is key to your BI program's success for the following reasons:

  • Enables a faster "mean time to answer".  Reducing the number of clicks and searches makes your applications more satisfying and efficient to use.
  • Consistency.  Once a user understands how to read one report or dashboard, they can apply the same methodology across all BI applications.
  • Expose correlations.  Simply combining data on a visualization like a chart or a scatter plot can immediately show a correlation between 2 measures that are not as readily apparent as pure numbers.
  • Guide your user through tried and tested analysis processes to expose the knowledge of power users to the larger user base.
  • Simplify the experience of finding information by improving navigation structures.  Ensure your search capabilities are optimized to return the most relevant results.

In order to drive the most value from your user's experience you need to have a consistent approach across all the user touch points in your environment.  My recommendation is to designate someone to be accountable for User Experience across the board.  Depending on the size of your BI program this may be part of someone's role, a full person, or a small team.  Only with a centre of excellence can you drive consistent standards across all groups creating end user content.  This team would also serve as a consultant to projects to ensure that the reporting and visualizations are designed to be intuitive and useful.

You can have all the wonderful architecture and data quality you want, but without an effective User Experience your clients will not see the value of all your hard work and will be less likely to adopt your BI environment.  First impressions only happen once.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

The Tactical Data Mart Advantage

image The capabilities of current BI tools allow us to drive down the costs to develop BI applications / data marts.  This means that we can quickly develop tactical applications leveraging standard tools and methodologies to reduce development cycles.  This enables the deployment of applications to support specific decision making problems that would normally not be supported by a quality BI environment due to the short turnaround required.

Some people get upset about building these so called silos that aren't integrated.  I take a different perspective that these tactical data marts expose the power of tactical Business Intelligence, and if you manage it well they are a great complement to your core infrastructure.

"A good solution applied with vigour now is better than a perfect solution applied ten minutes later.” - General George S. Patton

It is critical that you have a checkpoint or a regular environment review that you can rely on to take one of the following actions at the end of the decision making life cycle:

  1. Decision has been made and there is no need for continued access to the data mart.  Simple response, retire the data mart and free up system resources for the next initiative.  Celebrate the success.
  2. The information within the data mart has continuing value to the organization.  In this case you need to have room in your requirements funnel to incorporate the data mart into your permanent BI infrastructure.

Don't hold your business back by sticking to a traditional release cycle.  Build a team within your BI program that can quickly spin up the appropriate BI solution to support tactical decision making.  You can't win the war if you don't win a battle now and then!

Monday, March 02, 2009

Data Integration and Your Organization

Today we had John Schmidt, VP of Global Integration Services at Informatica come speak to our teams about best practices for setting up an Integration Competency Centre (ICC).  John made an interesting point that your various Integration functions may be included in Competency Centres in different ways depending on the organization.  

If you have researched Business Intelligence Competency Centres (BICC) you will often find a Data Integration function as one of the functions staffed within the BICC.  However, Business Intelligence is just one part of the pie when it comes to integrating information across the enterprise.  You will also need data integration expertise for data quality, Master Data Management, and other non-BI specific projects.  A number of these projects may not impact BI significantly if at all.  If you want a holistic view of data across your organization you must either create a standalone ICC with strong ties to your BICC, or incorporate all areas of integration practice within a higher level Information Management Competency Centre.

Good BI is enabled by quality data.  Since data quality lives along the information management timeline from your source systems to your analytic databases, it is critical you have technology, process and people engaged all the way along to ensure the best data is delivered for BI.

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