InetSoft BI Webinar: Liberating Analysts and Managing Output

This is a continuation of the transcipt of a Webinar hosted by InetSoft. The speaker is Mark Flaherty, CMO at InetSoft, and he discusses the topic “Analysis and Exploration: Matching Tools and Needs”.

Mark Flaherty: Now, obviously on the BI side what we try to do is to get ahead of these spreadmarts by encapsulating as many of them as possible into various data marts and data warehouses. And this is a never ending process and one that we need to take on and never get defeated in pursuing, but it is kind of like playing whack a-mole because it seems as soon as we consolidate one spreadmart into a data mart or data warehouse, two or three pop up to take its place.

Nonetheless through a very persistent and consistent creation of new subject areas within a warehouse and proper application of BI governance, we can get ahead of the spreadmart dilemma that afflicts many of us. But, since we are talking about analytics and business analysts in particular, we have to ask why do these analysts create these spreadmarts? So I have got here the true deepest confessions of a real honest to goodness business analyst. And she’ll remain anonymous for the time being. She said:

“I have been one of those so called “spreadsheet jockeys,” and I have an affinity for Excel, but out of necessity. Often the BI team generates a report that gives me 90 percent of what I need. And they think they are done. You know I still have to rerun my manual queries to get the remaining 10 percent. We use Excel because it is the only place where you can adjust and link the numbers. We are under tight time pressure to crunch data and provide recommendations to the business on important issues. We can’t afford to be wrong or wait for the BI team to deliver data in the right format.”

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Now it's interesting, the lady who told me this was recently assigned to run the BI team at her company. So I guess if you are on the BI or IT side you could say that’s sweet revenge because she is suffering on the other side trying to manage her former colleagues. But this quote really goes to the heart of the issue. They need access to a variety of different sources of data and often times the data warehouse does not contain all that they need. And they need to integrate that data. So it goes without saying that the more data that we can put in the warehouse and then offer to them in a timely basis, the better off they will be, although as she says, ‘90 percent is almost as good as zero percent,’ unfortunately.

So how do we empower this analyst, how do we liberate them as well as manage their output? Well there are ten ways to do this. And the first is provide ready access to corporate data, wherever it exists. Too often the IT department puts the data in jail and that requires business analyst to go through all kinds of hoops to get access to it, such as filling out multiple forms and waiting multiple weeks. It gets to the point where they just give up and do their analysis on a suboptimal subset of data.

Numbers nine through five really are all about creating a data warehouse and doing the data management things so that the business analysts don’t have to do it themselves. So consolidate detailed data in one place and bring it all together in one place. And don’t forget the detail because the analysts want those details. That’s where all of the jewels are.

When you consolidate it, make sure you integrate the data and normalize it so all the table definitions and column definitions have distinct and consistent meaning. Standardize the metadata, clean and fix all the errors, and deliver the data in the timely fashion so they have it when they need it.

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Number four, provide self-service reporting to casual users. We didn’t hire most of these analysts to be ad hoc reporting staff for the users in their department. But they oftentimes get sucked into doing that role. Whereas we can find folks the “Super User”, and also provide better self-service BI tools to offload this type of ad hoc reporting duty from the analyst, freeing them up to spend more time doing with their really good at. We can also give them access to analytical sandboxes, which is a way to allow them free rein to explore data in the data warehouse as well as use their own data, without getting them into trouble by publishing the results.

I also would make them part of the BI Working Committee or BICC instead of thinking of the analyst as the enemy, the evil creators of spreadmarts that are the undoing of every good BI architecture. We need to engage these folks and put them on the BI Competency Center and actually make them the leaders of the BI Competency Center, the folks who run the working committee that really sets the roadmap and other things, which we will discuss little bit more.

And finally, don’t dictate what tools they can use. As I said earlier you wouldn’t want a carpenter to come build a house with only one tool in his tool box. In the same way you don’t want to restrict an analyst from the tools that they need to use for whatever occasion, whatever type of analysis they are doing. They should be allowed to use the analytic tool that’s suited to that problem.

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