Sunday, March 25, 2012

Engaging Your Users From Day 1

There is something very appealing about a report or dashboard that just speaks to you. There are lots of factors that contribute to this type of experience. For me the first thing that grabs me is the overall beauty of the layout. Is it using consistent formatting? Does the colour scheme appeal to the eye and make the visualizations easy to read? (white font headers on dark backgrounds are my favourite) Do I immediately zero in on an insight that I will take action on?

The funny thing is another person may look at the same dashboard and it doesn't say a word to them. Everyone's needs and insights are different, and we have to design our BI user experience to tailor to the end user. This is why it is so critical to engage our users at the earliest stages of the process.

My recommendation would be start with what business questions we are trying to answer, and what actions this will generate. Before the first mock-up or list of data elements is created, make sure we know what business value we are trying to deliver. Once you have determined the problem we are trying to solve, then understand what data you need to source. This is a critical step, at this point we should be working with our users on what data we need and how that data is generated. We can use this time to establish the quality of our data, and engage our business in ensuring that the data will meet our needs.

An interesting experiment at this point is to make the raw data available and allow the user to play. Let them at a cube or even an Excel pivot table, and see what insights can be pulled from the data. This will help us understand what key metrics and dashboards will speak back to the questions we are trying to answer and the actions we are going to take as a result.

If your users are engaged from day 1, you will save time and your users will be raving fans!


Saturday, February 25, 2012

BI Stands for Business Integrity

One of the key aspects of working within the field of Business Intelligence is the need for an absolute commitment to Integrity. In my career I have run across a number of situations that have put this to the test.

Data Integrity Issues

No matter the maturity of your data governance program, we have all run across situations where a data quality issue is impacting the quality of our Business Intelligence information or highlights an operational issue. Quite often these issues are highly sensitive within the organization. We have a responsibility as Business Intelligence professionals to communicate these issues to our stakeholders in a sensitive way that is focused on resolving the issue.

Truth Hurts

The facts don't lie. The beauty of Business Intelligence is that once you take a look at the data, there really is no defending the various theories that people use to operate their business in the absence of facts. Again, we need to engage our stakeholders in the process of moving to fact based decision making by having them part of the solution so they can adjust their business practices to the true reality.


Nobody is perfect. The reality is that we will make mistakes in our BI implementations by inaccurate meta data, ETL coding errors, report logic and the hundreds of other places we can make mistakes in our BI implementations. We need to raise these issues and the impact this has had to business operations and decision making. This isn't about quickly fixing and hoping no one notices, we need to be up front and accept responsibility for our mistakes.

Communicating these issues is not about sending a blanket email coldly highlighting the issues, the best way is to get out of your chair or pick up the phone and talk to people. This is not the fun part of the job. We always need to do the right thing, especially when it is hard.


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