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Achieving design that is for the business, by the business

By Sara Ricketts. Principal Performance Management Consultant, Creative Computing

What’s most important to a developer in Business Intelligence (BI) implementation: Data accuracy? Performance? Look and feel?

The truth is, all three are important, but disproportionate weight is often given to the first two. This is a very common mistake in approaching BI design. As developers and modelers, we need to remember that the end result we’re aiming for is a satisfied, self-sufficient business user, not just a data model and some associated reports/dashboards.

A major key to success is ensuring the BI project lead has a clear understanding of how stakeholders will use the information, even before any data modeling or design takes place. To facilitate this, you should embed targeted business stakeholders within the project team at an early date, albeit in a very limited, part-time capacity. Their initial role is to offer input into the analysis phase of the project, describe the business process and delineate current challenges.

It’s more than just examining current reports and assuming that that will be enough. What is the business value of simply replicating what they already had, but in another tool? Very little, if we’re being honest. What we need to strive for is a better experience for the end user — but only people involved with the business can define “better.”

Our role as developers is to be the bridge between the business and the data, both in terms of the assets that we build, and the conversation around requirements. It also means understanding the business process, albeit at a high level: More often than not, business users aren’t fully aware of all of the capabilities of the BI tool, so asking “What should this report look like?” almost guarantees that you will end up with a design that does not offer the true value of the BI solution.

The better approach is to listen to the business stakeholder describe the process of how they would use that information. With that input you can translate your knowledge of the business process into the BI design. For example, “Instead of a long list of those orders, would you like to be able click on a bar chart for that off-target revenue and see all the detail in a popup window?”

Most likely you’ll hear something like “Wow! It can do that?” Excited business users, who have played an active role in the design, can become future BI champions. In the end, that serves our ultimate goal: delivering a high value Business Intelligence offering as the single, actionable version of the truth.


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