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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.

In my last blog, I made the case for both classifying and certifying the analytical capabilities of power users. In short, classifying power users helps business intelligence (BI) teams better understand and serve the information needs of power users and shows executives where and how to beef up their organization's analytical talent. And certifying power users motivates them to upgrade their analytical capabilities to achieve greater status, pay, and responsibility. (See "Classifying and Certifying BI Users").

As I mentioned last time, every BI team should classify their users, either using my scheme below or creating one of their own. This takes time but pays big dividends. Tailoring BI functionality and report design to individual information requirements increases the likelihood that users will adopt BI tools. Some BI vendors enforce this discipline by offering named user licenses based on functionality, but this can be restrictive since most users play multiple roles during the course of a day. It's better to tailor BI functionality in the administrative console.

More importantly, business users should be cognizant of their classification when using BI tools and reports. They should see their status (e.g. "Class I: Viewer") in the heading of each report they use and be able to view its description by hovering their mouse over the text. Ideally, users should be able to click on a button that changes their report interface from Class I to Class II or Class III and back again. BI tools that expose and hide functionality on demand drive higher levels of BI adoption. If anyone has done anything remote similar to this, let me know!!

Casual User Classifications

Casual users are business people who use information to do their jobs. They mostly consume information artifacts that others create (i.e. power users.) Figure 1 presents three levels of casual users: Class I Viewer, Class II Navigator, and Class III Explorer.

Figure 1. Casual User Classifications
Casual User Classification.jpg

Class I: Viewer. A Viewer is an executive, salesperson, or front-line worker who views information displayed on a screen and rarely interacts with it. Executives and salespeople may not have the time or inclination to interact with the display, while front-line folks don't have the time. A Viewer is often reared on spreadsheets and prefers a tabular view of data with all information on a single page. If a Viewer has a question about the data, he'll pick up the phone and call an analyst (especially old-school executives.) And he prefers receiving reports via email, although many are now entering the digital age with tablet computers and are now receptive to viewing information on these devices.

Class II: Navigator. A Navigator is typically a manager or knowledge worker who needs to monitor and manage the performance of a team and present the results to executives. Thus, a Navigator is more inclined to drill into the data to view more detail about an issue. She may also pivot dimensions or sort, rank, or add columns in a table or create custom groups (if it's a one-click function) and perform "what-if analyses" (ditto.) She may still call an analyst if she gets hung up after four or five clicks or can't find what she's looking for. A Navigator typically wants to interact with charts and view tabular data when examining detail. She prefers a browser-based interface and is increasingly using tablets as the interactivity of mobile BI displays improves.

Class III: Explorer. An Explorer is the archetypal BI user: a business user who uses a BI tool not only to view and interact with predefined reports and dashboards but explore data presented in a BI semantic layer and create simple reports and dashboards for themselves and colleagues. I've called these folks "super users" in the past: business users who gravitate to a BI tool, become proficient with it, and become the "go to" person in their department to get a custom report. In essence, Explorers are bonafide analysts. In fact, a Class III Explorer (casual user) is the same as a Class I Explorer (power user).

Power User Classifications

Like casual users, there are three classes of power users: Class I: Explorer, Class II: Analyst, and Class III: Data Scientist. (See figure 2.) It's perhaps more important to classify power users because, unlike casual users, they access data not reports and generate data that others consume. Therefore, it's critical to assess their data, analysis, and publishing capabilities. They are the eyes and ears of the BI team in the business units and must be trusted to accurately gather and display information upon which executives, managers, and others make critical decisions.

Figure 2. Power User Classifications
Power User Classification.jpg

Class I: Explorer. As mentioned above, a Class I Explorer (power user) is identical to a Class III Explorer (casual user.) An Explorer is really a super user who uses a BI tool not only to view and interact with predefined reports and dashboards but explore data presented in a BI semantic layer and create simple reports and dashboards for themselves and colleagues. An Explorer has at least basic knowledge of the business and can use a BI tool to create custom groups and hierarchies and assemble and publish dashboards from predefined objects. In other words, an Explorer knows how to use a BI tool's ad hoc query and publishing capabilities. If motivated, he can easily become a Class II Analyst and do analytical work full time.

Class II: Analyst. An Analyst explores and combines data at a deeper level than the Explorer. An Analyst queries the data warehouse directly, combining the data with local files via custom joins and data scrubbing functions. An Analyst has greater knowledge of the business than an Explorer, having spent three to five years in the industry and one to two years in a specific department learning its people, processes, data, and applications. An Analyst can perform more complex analyses and knows basic statistics and is familiar with statistical or machine learning tools. The Analyst can create dashboards from ad hoc queries and custom views and publish them to various groups.

Class III: Data Scientist. The Data Scientist is the ultimate power user whom you entrust to access data in its raw form in a staging area or source system and create accurate queries, joins, reports, and models from the data. They have deep knowledge of the business, its processes, applications, and data with three to five years of experience in both the industry and an individual business unit. The know how to integrate and transform complex data and use statistical and machine learning tools to create complex analytical models. The best ones can also program queries in a variety of languages to access non-relational data (e.g. Hadoop) and display the results using data visualization software.

Summary. Hopefully, these classifications will inspire you to create a similar set of classifications of your organization's users. Knowing your users is the first step toward delivering BI services that users want and use. And when you publicize these classifications, it may inspire business users to upgrade their data and analytical capabilities, which will reap dividends for the individuals, your BI program, and the organization as a whole.


Posted September 24, 2013 11:25 AM
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1 Comment

Great article!
Is there a more current article or blog post available related to classifying and certifying BI users (and super users)? If so, can you please point me to it. Thank you!

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