“Well, we haven’t really thought about that”
If you participate in activities that include searching for that “right” business intelligence tool, you will find that most organizations have these top 3 challenges in common:
- Use manual tasks that include desktop query and reporting tools, to answer their business questions.
- Have “something” in place that they are not really happy with or is becoming out of date and cost prohibitive.
- Have difficulty managing data within multiple silos and have the need to access, consolidate and optimise it.
Hence, they are usually looking for a reasonably cost business analytics alternative that can provide them with answers to their critical business questions; while providing ease of use and other functionality that will fit in their budget. Don’t believe me? Join the many business intelligence groups available in LinkedIn, Quora and other social networking sites and you will see the barrage of questions pertaining to recommendations on BI and analytics tools.
Recently, I participated in a site visit to consult on this exact topic. I encountered our “prospect” whom started our meeting with:
“So to keep this simple, we need basic reporting that has ability to access all if not most of our data directly where it originates.”
[…] Silence…not only could you hear crickets in the room, but you could hear them in the conference room next-door. I took the proverbial saying “Silence is Golden” to another level. It became so uncomfortable that my colleague felt she should interject. As her mouth opened, I interrupted with a gesture and allowed them to answer the question. After about a minute of what felt like hours and some awkward glances around the room they responded with a crooked smile:
“Okay? That is absolutely possible. However do you understand the pros and cons that are associated with doing that?”
“Well, we haven’t really thought about that.” – Ah ha!
Hmm… “We haven’t really thought about that.” – Seriously, guys come on?!
That’s the problem! They did not take the time to be proactive and think about what was actually needed and rather reacted to specific requests such as, “I just need reporting,” or “We need dashboards.”
I took this as an opportunity to educate them by asking pointed questions that would help them see what it is they actually need vs. what they thought they needed.
Some questions I always ask to determine what is actually needed:
- Is the data you need to access – all in one location? – No
- Does the data you have support a majority of questions that will be asked of it? – Don’t know
- Would you like answers to questions that occur on a regular basis? – Yes
- Would you like your users to answer their own questions on a random basis? – Yes
- Would you like your users to explore and discover answers to questions they did not think to ask? – Yes
- Do you have a predefined set of KPIs to manage and track business performance? – Yes
- Would you like your executives to see an at a glance view of those KPIs? – Yes
Alright, now we are getting somewhere. Each of those questions and responses clearly identifies that their needs are more than just simple reporting as originally desired. They require a solution that encompasses both data integration and business discovery.
I further probed as to why they wanted to access all of their data “directly where it originates.”
“Because building an EDW (Enterprise Data Warehouse) takes too much time and costs too much money. We also don’t have time to collect all those questions that are to be supported by the data.”
After I regained my composure, I further explained that data management and integration does not have to be about building an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). It can be about building operational data stores, that are refreshed periodically, to support questions that the business users want to ask. It can involve federated queries where the data is accessed from the source without having to stage the data. It can also be about normalizing data into small easy to maintain datamarts that support speed of thought analytics for the power users.
Upon those points I provided a demonstration of some business intelligence capabilities which involved managing data and business discovery. At the completion of the presentation, the prospect was pleased and stated:
“This is exactly what we are looking for.”
Ahh… music to my ears.
I say this with great care; you cannot throw any business analytics tool into your organization and expect it to stick without asking some important questions. It is those answers that will help guide you to the right solution. And most importantly, it is possible to put a business discovery solution on top of those “as-is” data sources without knowing what questions are going to be asked ahead of time. Today, there are business discovery solutions that enable business users to ask their own streams of questions and that more important “next question” without having a prescriptive and predefined setup.
On the majority of calls that I participate in, it seems that organizations just don’t have the time to properly plan and discuss the criteria needed to implement a decision support system. Why? Because everyone is doing more with less these days and researching a BI and analytics tool is…usually…an ancillary responsibility for them. If that is the case, allow an expert to help you with your research and they can ask those questions you haven’t really thought about.
Michael Tarallo is Senior Product Marketing Manager at QlikView