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Wayne Eckerson

Welcome to Wayne's World, my blog that illuminates the latest thinking about how to deliver insights from business data and celebrates out-of-the-box thinkers and doers in the business intelligence (BI), performance management and data warehousing (DW) fields. Tune in here if you want to keep abreast of the latest trends, techniques, and technologies in this dynamic industry.

About the author >

Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group,a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.

Are you getting the level of BI adoption you promised executives? Do you see an initial spike of BI activity when you deploy a new BI tool or report which then trails off? Do you fear that executives will give your BI program (or your job) the axe next fiscal year because the BI program isn't delivering enough bang for the buck?

If so, welcome aboard. You are not alone. But that doesn't make the situation any less dire. Your rate of active user adoption directly indicates the success of your BI program. Low adoption not only means you get less dollars at budget time, it also likely means that business users have abandoned your BI tools and data in favor of some "non-standard" environment. Worse yet, it may indicate that users have given up entirely and no longer seek to use data to make decisions.

Know your Audience

Although myriad problems contribute to low user adoption, the primary one for BI professionals is that they are woefully ill-informed about the business people they support. Most BI professionals have a mass-market mentality: they think all users have the same information needs and requirements. As a result, they provide everyone the same homogeneous stew of data, views, and tools. And then they're perplexed why so few business people use the BI tools and reports they provide. But the reason is obvious.

Any good novelist, painter, screenwriter or marketer knows that to connect with an audience you have to know what makes them tick. Many create a mental or visual profile of their target viewer and keep it front and center while creating their work of art or message. This helps them put the reader or viewer front and central so that whatever they create resonates more deeply and profoundly with their audience. Every artist knows that unless you connect with your audience, your beautiful creation will be ignored at best and lampooned at worst.

Like artists and marketers, BI professionals must know their audience, but even moreso. That's because BI users are a diverse lot. There are many gradations of information requirements. And most business people switch roles multiple times a day. A business person who needs a simple static dashboard to manage one part of his job may need to combine a local Excel file with raw data from the warehouse in another part. Keeping track of user roles is a full time job, but one that is critical to the success of any BI program.

Classifying Business Users

For years, I've written and spoken about two camps of BI users: casual users and power users. This is the most basic classification scheme, but it adheres to the 80/20 rule. Understanding the differences between casual and power users delivers 80% of the benefit when rolling out BI tools and reports. The basic difference is that casual users require structured access to predefined sets of data through interactive reports and dashboards tailored to individual roles, while power users explore data in a variety of systems in an ad hoc fashion.

Although most BI managers understand the differences between casual and power users, most don't act on their knowledge. Their biggest blunder is trying to gather requirements for power users. Ha! That never works because power users will simply say, "Give me all the data." Nonetheless, many BI programs continue to bang their head against that requirements wall.

But this is beside the point. Even if an organization understands and acts on the differences between casual and power users, they still may not achieve a high degree of user adoption because they've failed to comprehend the remaining nuances of the way their customers consume information. Consequently, they never achieve the final 20% of benefits from their BI initiatives that results in high-levels of adoption and user satisfaction.

Classifying Power Users

To help BI professionals create a more nuanced view of their audience, I've created a classification scheme for one of their key group: power users. (In future blogs, I'll present classification schemes for casual users, BI professionals, report writers, and ETL developers.) Traditionally, I classify power users by their business role: super user, business analyst, statistician, and data scientist. That's a fair classification but I've never elaborated on the nuances of how each type uses information.

Figure 1 defines three classes of power users by four dimensions: business knowledge, analytical skills, data integration skills, and publishing skills. This is a good start to a formal classification scheme, but it needs further refinement to be useful. Please send me your feedback and perhaps we can create an industry standard scheme that benefits everyone.

Figure 1. Power User Classifications
Power User Classification.jpg

Certifying Power Users

More important than the content of the classification scheme is how organizations use it. My hope is that BI programs will collaborate with their human resources departments to create a formal certification program based on this (or a similar) classification. In a certification program, each power user receives a rating or classification based on some formal yardstick, such a training class they've taken, test scores they've achieved, or a real-world project they've managed, or some combination of all three.

Power users receive a certificate or badge when they achieve a new level in the classification scheme. Call this the "gamification" of BI, but I think it will provide greater clarity around power user skills and requirements as well as motivate analysts and their managers to upgrade their analytical capabilities. And who doesn't want a badge to wear or display in their office showing their professional accomplishment and status with the organization?

Although establishing a certification program may seem like a lot of work, it offers numerous benefits:

  1. Customer Knowledge. BI teams can understand the types of power users in their organization, better anticipate their needs, and tailor access to their requirements.
  2. Departmental Deficits. Executives know which departments or business units lack the power users required to support various types of analytical initiatives.
  3. Self Knowledge. Business analysts understand where they stand in the spectrum of analytical capabilities and it gives them a concrete set of objectives to pursue to move up the ranks.
  4. Training. Executives will be motivated to establish and fund training programs and career paths to improve the analytical capabilities of the organization.

A formal classification scheme becomes a palpable way to accelerate adoption of your BI environment and increase your organization's analytical maturity. By delineating types of users at a granular level and formalizing their existence through a certification program, your BI staff will better serve the information needs of its audience and accelerate adoption. Moreover, a certification program will encourage analysts to upgrade their analytical skills and show executives when and how to invest in upgrading their organization's analytical capabilities.


Posted September 23, 2013 9:39 AM
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