07 April 2009

The importance of good communication with End Users

I've said it before and I will say it again: "The success of BI starts and ends with the end users".

Last week I had the privilege of running a brief education stint with the senior management of one of my favourite customers, to educate them on the efficiencies they would now have in getting relevant information with our BI implementation, which they could invoke directly from inside Siebel with the click of a single button.

After a lot of lively, meaningful discussion, we realized we probably would not achieve world peace this week, but we also found out that although the BI implementation was developed exactly to specification and worked flawlessly with all its drilldown, slice & dice functionality, it did not provide value because the wrong things were being measured, and in the wrong way. Another reason why I like this customer so much is that instead of a witch-hunt for who interpreted their requirements into a specification, we took the opportunity we had with all the affected business leaders in the same room and nutted out exactly what was required. This is a level of maturity that is refreshing to find, especially in the midst of this global financial turmoil.

In BI, often end users don't know what they want until you show them something, this is a very common reality and is rooted in the spiral nature of BI projects, as opposed to the waterfall "design everything up-front" methodology of typical commercial OLTP type projects. This statement did have a placating effect on my audience last week and allowed us to return to the issue and opportunity at hand.

We flipcharted and whiteboarded (are those even verbs?) all the thoughts and considerations to be taken into effect and came up with a way forward, in a way we could reuse many of the existing components, but now we had a lot more support, since this was the first time we had all the top levels of management in a single room for a 3 hour period, and we finally got inside their minds and found out the answer to WPMO (what pisses me off?) and WKMA (what keeps me awake?) questions. Now we could design a solution that would provide value to them.

This is also proof that it is better to do the right things than to do the things right.

If BI projects are to succeed in delivering value, to enhance the lives of the audience they are targeted towards, we HAVE to "spend a day in the lives of our target users".

Put another way, if my car's user interface (dashboard) showed me the compression in each of the cylinders, or the amps being drawn from / to the battery from the alternator and other electronics, I probably would not pay the slightest attention to these measures as I drive towards a traffic cop parked on the side of the road. At that time, what matters most to me is that I know the speed limit of where I am driving and I know the speed of my vehicle in relation to it (as in, stay under the limit). The intelligence I get from my car needs to be relevant to my conditions at the time. Effective business intelligence needs to begin with an approach as simplistic as this.

Have you had situations where you have gone to deliver the final 'ta-daa! presentation' only to find that what you have delivered means about as much to your audience as a symphony being delivered in sign language? Share your experiences via feedback & comments.

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