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IT Analyst and Executive User Disconnect. Red Flag #4 on why BI reports fail February 16, 2006

Posted by Cyril Brookes in General, Issues in building BI reporting systems.
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Executive users of a BI reporting system and the IT analyst designers have different objectives and reward mechanisms.  It is common, therefore, for a disconnect, often fatal to user satisfaction, to build between each type of participant’s expectations for the system.

The Executive user is typically expecting:

  • Timely access to information he/she requires to understand the status of the business, or the relevant part of it.
  • Ability to identify problems and opportunities as they arise
  • Alerting signals when parameters go out of normal range
  • BI reports that contain the information nominated as required
  • Compilation of a database and set of analytical tools to facilitate rapid diagnosis and solution of problems – when they are found.

Obviously these expectations must be built into the specification to be achieved; they can’t be retro-fitted later.

The IT analyst is typically expecting:

  • Project completion within time and budget
  • Use of standard software tools for presentation and access where possible
  • Use of standard Data Warehouse elements, preferably reused from earlier projects
  • No special data resource development if possible
  • Executive user sign-off on the specification as soon as practicable

For the IT analyst, a focus on obtaining an optimal specification is not a natural part of the task.  Certainly a specification is required, we can’t build a BI system without one; but ideally it will be that set of KPIs or corporate measures selected as being equivalent to whatever reporting this new system may be replacing. 

Certainly, IT analysts don’t want the system specification to stray outside the available data items in the data warehouse, irrespective of the need for such novel data.

Executives commonly believe that the act of specifying an information element for a BI report means it will be available.  The project documentation process must rapidly link information requirements as specified by the executive users with available data resources, to highlight any shortcomings that can be fed back.  Otherwise the executives will continue to believe that their stated needs will be met, when this may, in fact, be impossible.

Therefore the potential for disconnect is huge.  It is made more difficult because the executive user will typically not mentally engage with the project until it is about to be delivered.  The specification process, if not done well in a structured manner, will be regarded as a nuisance and waste of time.  A sign-off is meaningless if it isn’t based on a real interaction and will be repudiated if necessary.  Obtaining active executive involvement in the specification process is difficult, but clearly essential if a good result is to be had.

Therefore, the symptoms of Red Flag 4: IT and Executive User Disconnect include situations where:

  • The specification process has had minimal Executive – IT analyst interaction
  • User expectations are unrealistic, but not negotiated down, during planning or specification tasks
  • Important newly identified data collection needs are identified and planned for availability
  • There is no ability to link existing data with specified needs of executives, and therefore it is unknowable if the specification can be achieved.
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