White Paper. Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program

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1 White Paper Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program WiseAnalytics 118 Montgomery Ave, Suite 113W Toronto, ON M4R 1E3 T Twitter wiseanalytics

2 Sponsored by Lavastorm Analytics Lavastorm Analytics is a global analytics software company that transforms how enterprises tackle data challenges and solve analytic problems. The company s Lavastorm Analytics Engine is an agile analytic environment that allows business analysts to combine data 10x faster, eliminate data quality issues, expose complex patterns, discover new insights and continuously apply analytics to control business processes. Lavastorm s solutions have identified business improvements worth billions of dollars for some of the largest corporations in the world. For more information, please visit: About WiseAnalytics WiseAnalytics is a boutique analyst firm that conducts research and provides advisory services focusing on business intelligence for mid-market organizations. Founded in October 2007, WiseAnalytics is a privately run organization that focuses on market research to identify industry trends, adoption of technologies and solutions, and the fit of vendor products within the business intelligence market, and consulting and advisory services for organizations looking to implement business intelligence solutions, including data warehousing, dashboards, and analytics. Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 1

3 Introduction The term self-service is ubiquitous in today s business intelligence (BI) market. BI vendors and organizations alike constantly work to expand BI s use and value proposition within the organization by making it more accessible to a wider variety of people. This push has created a series of BI offerings that are easy to interact and design with without the help of IT departments. However, there are many types of BI users that are still underserved. Primary among them are business analysts that could make self-service BI more successful if they are empowered with higher levels of interactivity and the capabilities to design their own BI applications. Traditionally, business analysts have a broader understanding of data relationships and know how to develop their own analytics. They interact with spreadsheets, develop their own SQL scripts, and create their own databases. In many cases, business analysts are power users because they are tasked with taking ownership over data due to their level of expertise. The business analyst is the person who understands the intricacies of data and how it interrelates within the organization s ecosystem, represents the link between their departments and IT, and develops analytical insights based on their subject matter expertise. Because of this skill set, these users are tasked with developing their own complex set of analytics. They also create BI models and reports that will be consumed by employees across the organization. Luckily some self-service BI offerings support this two-tiered approach, providing business analysts with access to the components required to do so successfully. The importance of the power user/business analyst role cannot be overlooked as creating a successful self-service BI strategy requires consumption of analytics, design that supports this consumption, and business control to ensure that the right information is delivered to the right people and that the right business rules are applied. This represents the intersection of business and IT roles and represents the value of the power user. Now, more than ever, it is important to take advantage of these skill sets to drive self-service BI. The reality is that many BI projects fail when not controlled by the business. Lack of proper requirements gathering and the inability to meet the needs of users creates a lack of adoption. Also, information is becoming more varied and complex. Simple tools such as Excel and Access no longer handle the complexities and increasing volumes inherent in big data or maintain the validity of analytic models. Between this and the increasing demand for in-house programmers and software developers, organizations need to have business analysts that understand the needs of the business, can perform robust analytics, and provide consumable applications for a wide variety of business users to support more technical roles required. This paper looks at five key enablers of self-service BI for business analysts. These are: 1. Building a collaborative relationship between the business analyst and IT 2. Design flexibility 3. Cohesion between technology, people, and business processes 4. Data diversity and preparation 5. Data quality Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 2

4 Building Strong and Collaborative IT Relationships Business analysts represent the link between IT departments and business units. These are the people who best understand the challenges faced by the business as well as the technology designed to support it, in essence representing the bridge between the IT department and the business unit. Consequently, developing a successful selfservice BI solution requires strong collaboration between these groups. The business analyst needs to interact directly with both of these groups to continuously ensure: A broad understanding of the variety of business use cases to make sure that all potential business scenarios are accounted for. That technology can support business requirements to ensure information delivery and support for complex business rules. Workarounds are created for potential technology limitations one solution may not be able to meet everyone s needs, but people still need to get their jobs done and access analytics making it important to identify how requests outside common use will be handled. That realistic business expectations are set both IT and business units need to understand what can and can t be done and why. Self-service interactions meet the needs of business users different users have different levels of BI experience, and this should be provided for in design. The varied challenges being faced on a daily basis by disparate business units are addressed to ensure that each group of users is provided with accurate data access and supportive analytics to help drive proactive decision-making. Although there are also cases of self-service delivery being managed through hosted offerings, most require data management from a centralized BI platform. This is because hosted solutions generally provide a subset of data access, whereas programs that are managed internally and centrally can take advantage of their data access points that cover all areas of the business. The bottom line for business analysts is that their symbiotic role in relation to IT departments needs to be a focus of any self-service BI action plan. Business analysts should make sure that they are drivers of collaboration across these departments to ensure that both business and IT needs are met. This can be achieved by opening up the lines of communication and identifying the value of data for each set of stakeholders and by understanding the steps involved in developing a level of self-service that meets the variety of needs within the department and/or organization. IT should provide broader support to business analysts and support them in their role by providing the relevant data access points they require. After all, without them, all of the BI development requests would be going to IT and adding to their overall workload. Flexibility In Design A misconception exists by many that self-service BI means that an application is downloaded and used automatically. The reality is that to capture the full picture of the organization, detailed design is still required. In many cases, this role requires the power user to interact with self-service BI technology in two ways. First, business analysts must have their own data access capability, and, second, they require the ability to create the self-service experience for general business users. This level of use requires a certain level of design flexibility, where ease of use, a Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 3

5 high level of interactivity, and strong data access capabilities are made available to the power user. They require this level of interaction to develop the reports, analytics models, and dashboards that will be used across the organization. Because most business analysts understand the way data interrelates across the organization as well as with external partners, their levels of interaction with analytics and information assets will be more detailed than the average business user. Not only are they be able to navigate through data to help answer business questions, they are also better equipped at interacting with the BI solution used. This is due to the fact that their involvement with BI is more detailed than most other users. This level of knowledge helps them create self-service interactions for others. After all, business analysts are the ones who are intimately aware of what the system can and cannot do and the best ways to interact with reports and dashboards. This level of flexible design requires direct connectivity to data sources and the ability to develop calculations on the fly. This is essential for business analysts because data integration can make or break a BI project. Organizations cannot get insights out of BI unless the data that goes into the system is reliable, valid, and timely. Therefore, business analysts need to have access to data sources and be able to develop the structure required to create the user experience. This highlights the role the business analyst holds as the BI creator. Self-service at this level requires the interface used to support the development of an intuitive end user experience one that expands beyond simple drag and drop capabilities for BI application development. It assures the business has the ability to respond to changes in business needs and also includes the implementation and management of business rules and visualizations to make sure that the most effective designs are applied. In some cases, solutions offer best guesses to support design practices by identifying the visualizations or charts that enable the highest levels of interactivity, making it easier for these solutions to be leveraged by business analysts. Provide business analysts with tools to enable self-service data acquisition and integration so that they are empowered to create applications independently. This places power in the hands of business analysts and also frees up IT from having to provide information access. Train business analysts on broader data integration techniques to ensure that relevant data is being acquired and that data consolidation reflects the needs of the business. Fitting Technology, People, and Business Processes Together Technology on its own isn t enough to ensure long-term self-service success. The self-service BI platform needs to support business processes and assist the people that interact with these tools as they complete their daily tasks. This means looking beyond technology to understand how jobs are performed, the end goal of analytical access (i.e. what people hope to achieve), and how people handle daily challenges. Developing a successful self-service BI program also requires looking at business processes used on a daily basis to identify how future issues should be addressed. Although solutions aim to provide a high level of interactivity, they may not support every question that will be asked or provide access to all the data sources required. Part of the development process should focus on determining how the solution will be managed and supported within the IT department. The business analyst may be the go-to person from the perspective of business users, but may not be Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 4

6 able to provide all of the support or changes required to meet the needs of these business users. Consequently, organizations should develop an effective set of processes that define levels of responsibility and management of change. A variety of changes can be required, including requirements to upgrade the system upgrade, roll out new processes related to data access, integrate disparate data sources or create new analytics. If there is a way to manage changes in a timely and effective way, there is a higher likelihood of long-term business user satisfaction and selfservice BI program success. After all, part of the promise of self-service is to grant business users more flexibility and better direct access to data. To ensure business user satisfaction on these dimensions, business analysts need to help manage the change process by coordinating both business users and IT and maintaining realistic expectations between both groups. Ensure that relevant stakeholders are identified. This way, business analysts will be able to work with employees throughout the organization who understand their business processes in depth. Empower the business analyst to act upon changes that are required without having to get sign-off from IT resources. Self-service BI should reflect the speed of business and business analysts need to be the catalysts to enable this to occur on a regular basis. Data Diversity and Preparation Due to the increase in data storage needs, information complexities, and more diverse data sources, using spreadsheets to for analysis is no longer an effective substitute for a self-service BI system. They provide people with only a one-dimensional view of the business situation and a subset of the information that is important to daily operations. Consequently, making self-service BI efforts more successful means looking at the data assets required and making sure that processes are in place to prepare multiple data sources for consumption. In many cases the business analyst is the one most knowledgeable about which data assets are required. IT may manage the platform, but the business analyst will understand how data interrelates on the business level, which data can stand alone, which needs to be integrated, and the essential business rules that need to be applied to the data. If the wrong data is accessed or algorithms are not applied correctly, the analytics will be useless. To avoid these problems, IT departments need to enable business analysts to create BI solutions that will be intuitive to the general business user. This requires business analysts to access data sources directly and develop the necessary calculations and relationships. In addition, the increasing diversity of data means that business analysts need to look at a broader set of information assets. Organizations are starting to integrate unstructured data sources more often and looking at big data platforms to feed data into BI solutions. Social media, GIS, and other forms of external data are becoming more widely integrated within BI applications and provide a sense for where the organization stands in the broader market place. Organizations acquiring self-service BI tools should allow business analysts to access these new sources so that they can explore data relationships for the business, in order to identify the relevance of new types of data to the business. Simply accessing GIS and social media data does not mean that it will be leveraged effectively. IT should provide support and training to business analysts to ensure that general data preparation can occur without IT intervention (in the case of non-complex business rules and data integration requirements). Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 5

7 Business analysts should take the time to explore the value of adding non-traditional data sources, such as GIS or social networks, to help provide the organization as a whole with more value. In this case, it is essential to identify industry use cases and look at the benefits associated with adding these types of data to make sure that their addition provides quantifiable value to the BI environment. Data Quality All of these BI enablers are affected by data quality and initiatives to ensure data quality across the organization and within BI specifically. Data quality is important because it ensures overall information integrity. When asked, many business users will admit they don t trust the data they interact with on a daily basis. Whether due to past inaccuracies, a lack of quality control, individuals managing their own data sets independently, or conflicting answers from different departments, a lack of trust in the data can lead to poor adoption of the analytics. This is also what leads many people to go rogue and attempt to use spreadsheets instead of a proper BI system. Unfortunately, a spreadsheet approach falls short of delivering the visibility most business users require and, therefore, leads to disappointed users. Self-service BI requires a data quality program to ensure that accurate data enters the system and that there is a process to manage this over time. Data quality can never be 100%, but high levels of quality can be maintained, as many self-service BI solutions have modules to support the management of this process. To ensure data integrity, organizations should provide business analysts with the tools to manage the data issues themselves. That means selecting a self-service BI solution with a module that provides the business analyst with a looking glass into potential data quality non-compliance. Beyond this, the solution needs to give business analysts a way to correct issues and, if necessary, escalate issues of interest to a broader data governance initiative. Data governance initiatives often impose additional requirements on the self-service BI solution. The goals of these initiatives are to maintain data accuracy over time, assign responsibility for data quality issues (whether the data assets are internal or external to the business), cleanse data, implement rules to ensure future compliance, and manage overall data assets. To support these initiatives, self-service BI programs need to empower business analysts with the ability to correct issues, escalate aspects out of their control and deal with data quality issues within the solution itself. In essence, their role represents the intersection point between business, IT, and technology related to how to properly manage data quality over time. Business analysts require access to data quality consoles to ensure adherence to data quality standards. Tools exist that flag data quality issues so that they can be corrected, either through process automation, or by looking into the issue further and correcting individual records or by redefining business processes. Select data quality solutions that provide the ability to manage business rules and data quality as issues occur. This will help organizations maintain data quality standards that match the complexities of their business processes. The Bottom Line For Business Analysts Business analysts need to become advocates for implementing a true self-service BI solution. This means becoming the go-to person in charge of interactions with IT as well as the evangelist that promotes and maintains the customer facing self-service interactions. Simply downloading an application that integrates one or two data sources Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 6

8 falls short of true self-service irrespective of ease of use and design. Yet, for many business users, this is the current extent of their self-service initiatives. The challenge with this type of use is that the business analyst then becomes the go-to person to fix anything that doesn t work, even though it is actually the lack of visibility and data access that is the problem. By developing a centralized solution that is managed on the data side by IT, but that enables business analysts to create business solutions, the broader needs of the organization can be met. In addition, with this type of deployment, self-service BI can be developed and maintained in a way that promotes broader interactivity, greater access, and better business insights. By taking into account the five enablers outlined in this paper, organizations can position power users to be the central figure in their self-service BI initiative, which will help support better decision making and strategic planning, and lead to better overall performance. Five Ways to Empower Business Analysts and Succeed in Your Self-Service BI Program 7

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