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BI For the Front Office
Five Questions to Ask End-Users

by Kevin Quinn, VP, Product Marketing, Information BuildersWednesday, April 21, 2010

A common complaint about business intelligence solutions is that they’re not user-friendly – these technologies are often relegated to back-office IT users, leaving the reporting and analysis power out of the hands of the employees who need it most. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In order to empower more people (e.g. sales teams, marketing groups, customer service reps) to use business intelligence tools, the IT department needs to understand the requirements of each of these groups. If the needs of the potential end-users of BI technologies are understood, then it becomes much clearer what type of solution the organization requires.

Before rolling out any type of business intelligence solution, there are five key things you need to know about your end-users. To provide the right business intelligence capabilities to the right people, you will need to find the answers to a few important questions, and/or gather additional information from knowledgeable managers within your company.  

1. What is the technical skill level and sophistication of the users(s)?

This question should not be posed directly to your users. Many end users have a skewed perception of their level of expertise and most consider themselves savvier than they are. Some may view themselves as advanced users simply because they once bought a book on Amazon or participated in an auction on eBay. The truth is, neither of these experiences classifies one as technically advanced.

What does it really mean to be technically advanced? From a business intelligence standpoint, there are several requirements for this category. Some users can easily interpret numbers and percentages. They gobble up statistics like candy. This alone does not make them technically advanced; it simply makes them curious. But if they are also technically astute, they will be able to apply that skill to effectively using a business intelligence tool. As a rule, if someone is comfortable with Excel’s features, such as creating formulas and sorting data, and they can easily interpret numbers (as described above), they are probably also capable of employing a business intelligence solution, such as an ad hoc query tool.

On average only about 10 to 15 percent of any audience of users is actually technically advanced. Of those people, most don’t have the time to put their advanced skills to work – leading us to the next question, which is closely related to this one.

2. How much time can they spend finding, accessing, and analyzing information?

This critical question, arguably the most important of the five, is often completely neglected. Yet if it is answered realistically, an accurate plan for deployment can be formulated, even without responses to the other four questions. The truth is, in a typical organization, most people need to access information, but very few of them have a lot of time to do it. If your users don’t have a lot of time to spend finding, accessing, and analyzing information, then they don’t require a business intelligence tool.

How much time someone has to devote to reporting is often related to their role in the organization. For example, executives may have very little time to spend analyzing data, while analysts will have much more time, as analysis is their main job function.

3. What types of questions will they be asking?

Have you ever really thought about the questions that people ask? Can they be categorized? If so, how? Different types of questions are best asked and answered by different types of solutions. Performance management, dashboards, and scorecards are about monitoring the status of a key metric. While ad hoc query tools are ideal for asking random or on-the-fly questions.

The following categories describe the various kinds of solutions available and highlight the types of questions that each is best for answering:

Status

Status is measured regularly. Users know this measure exists and where to get the data related to it. Therefore, you want to make it easy for them to access through pre-built reports or dashboards.

Common deployment methods: reports, dashboards, and scorecards.

Ad Hoc/Investigative

A variation of status is where a measure or related data is required, but is not readily available through a pre-defined dashboard or report. This is known as an “ad hoc question.” It is investigative, meaning that some knowledge or curiosity has sparked the user’s interest. He or she knows that the answer exists in the data, but does not have a way to retrieve it automatically. This type of question is one of the most challenging, because it can be asked and answered in multiple ways, but each way may or may not be practical, depending on the sophistication of the user asking the question.

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