Becoming a BI “PI”

There’s a lot of information out there floating around about dashboard and data visualization design best practices (a lot of good information). However, there is one thing people need to do in order to ensure that a business intelligence (BI) project is successful. This goes beyond design best practices; you need to understand who it is that will be consuming/viewing/using it.

You can have a beautiful dashboard using all of the best practices, but if you don’t really understand what your audience needs to see and what they need to accomplish out of the BI initiative, then you’re on a collision course with failure.

According to world leading information technology research and advisory company Gartner, a combination of poor communication between IT and the business, the failure to ask the right questions or to think about the real needs of the business, means most business intelligence (BI) projects fail to deliver.

Patrick Meehan, president and research director in Gartner’s CIO Research group, has said that “the first step should be to find out what the business really needs”.

Enter the BI PI, or business intelligence private investigator.

This certainly sounds a little funny, but it’s true. You need to interview the people who will be using the dashboard the most. You must understand how they are currently getting information, what information they are currently using, what information/knowledge they want to have, and what they should have. You need to uncover how to best deliver this information to them so they can do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Will they need a mobile element? Does information need to be democratized across a department or entire organization? Are alerts necessary? Does there need to be access to communication tools within the BI project itself? How can this particular audience work and use BI most effectively? Instead of a bottom up (data first) approach, you’re now looking at a top down (people first) approach.

It is this approach that our professional services team at Dundas takes, and it is this approach we recommend our clients use when building out their own solutions. Even if you’re not using Dundas (a ridiculous notion for sure) you should be approaching BI projects this way.

The foodie in me thinks of this analogy when it comes to BI & dashboards. Using a ready-made dashboard is like eating fast food. Sure you can survive off of it, but it will never provide you with the same nourishment, sustenance, and satisfaction that a home cooked meal made with fresh ingredients can. So too it is with BI and dashboards.

For more information on dashboard best practices you can check out Critical Dashboard Project Success Factors That Most Tend To Miss, or check out the videos of our presentation to the University of Toronto.

About the Author

Written by:

Jon is the Marketing Coordinator for Dundas Data Visualization, Inc. He manages tradeshow appearances, speaking engagements, and internal marketing for Dundas.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Jerry Kopecky

    Good points you raised, however, in my BI experience, knowledge of the company and/or department’s objectives needs to drive the questions for the dashboard user. This needs to be empathized. Customer execs have goals/objectives. Are these incorporated into the dashboards? BTW – these goals/objectives rapidly change over time as business requirements. Does the user’s dashboard? Dashboard tools (finally!) have these capabilities; for example, to generate alerts about a data point. What is to be done with the alert data? More revenue? Higher customer satisfaction? Let me make your food analogy into a wine analogy – I don’t want to waste high price/excellent wine on people who do not appreciate it, who are satisfied with something wet to wash down their mass produced food.

    1. Submitted by Jon Hazell

      You’re completely right Jerry, dashboards should reflect what the company, department, or executive objectives are. I should have been clear when I said users. Understanding the needs of the users really means the target audience (be that the entire company, a department, group, or individual).

      I firmly believe that even when someone may not necessarily appreciate a dashboard, it should still be able to display information that is relevant to them. If due diligence hasn’t been followed during the creation process, and people aren’t getting the right information in the right way; then, in the spirit of your analogy: you’ve wasted money on wine that simply isn’t being drunk at all.

      You are certainly correct in that requirements do change over the course of a business. Good dashboards and business intelligence solutions in general need to have the flexibility to change, or be changed, in order to properly address the current needs of its audience.


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