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BI Professionals: The Benefits of a Proactive Approach

There's much to be gained by taking proactive steps to become more than just the "IT" person -- for the organization and the IT professional.

As business intelligence professionals, we all realize that our primary customers are our user community and that our objective is to provide our users with the data and analysis they need to improve their decision making. After all, before it became known as business intelligence, BI was initially referred to as decision support.

Change Perceptions

Although IT in general and data warehousing and business intelligence in particular are frequently considered service activities, many of us strive to be considered business partners by our user community. To truly achieve this standing, we need to be even more proactive. For example, how many times have we met a user request only to hear "this is great and I really appreciate your efforts, but this isn't exactly what I need; could you modify it to ... ?"

This is one of the reasons that the use of rapid prototyping has grown while the use of a detailed functional specification (with a multi-month timeline for the creation, review, and sign-off) has declined, at least for analytics. Operational systems should still, of course, follow the systems development life cycle with a well-defined and agreed-to functional specification. Today's organizations need to quickly react to rapidly changing business requirements and realize that by the time a detailed functional specification for reports and analyses are agreed to, the underlying business opportunity may be long gone.

Don't Just React

Rather than simply reacting to user requests for specific reports and analyses, we should make it a practice to inquire about the problem our users are trying to solve. Going back to the original name, we could ask our user, "What decision are you trying to support?" Knowing this upfront allows us to jointly explore ideas for additional or alternate reports and analyses. It would enable us to suggest additional data sources (both external and internal to our organization) or advise our users that some of their assumptions (e.g., their perception of the content or even the leanliness of underlying data sources) may not be accurate, thus minimizing wasted efforts and false starts while improving the overall efficiency of both user and IT departments and helping to better position us as a true business partner.

Follow-up is Important

After a user request is satisfied, a simple e-mail message or hallway encounter asking if your report or analysis proved useful and if there is anything else you can do to help is a simple but effective step to furthering your business relationship (not to mention your own career!) with your user community. In other words, don't consider user requests as one-time independent tasks that you satisfy and then move on to the next, but rather as seeds for a growing a long-term practitioner/client partnership. This relationship can be further enhanced by making an effort to expand your knowledge well beyond BI technology and learning more about your organization's business and perhaps even taking courses in your primary users' specialty (such as marketing or finance).


The bottom line result is that proactive efforts to become more than just the "IT" person should lead to "cheaper, better, and faster" results and a higher degree of satisfaction to both business intelligence practitioners and their user business partners.

About the Author

Michael A. Schiff is founder and principal analyst of MAS Strategies, which specializes in formulating effective data warehousing strategies. With more than four decades of industry experience as a developer, user, consultant, vendor, and industry analyst, Mike is an expert in developing, marketing, and implementing solutions that transform operational data into useful decision-enabling information.

His prior experience as an IT director and systems and programming manager provide him with a thorough understanding of the technical, business, and political issues that must be addressed for any successful implementation. With Bachelor and Master of Science degrees from MIT's Sloan School of Management and as a certified financial planner, Mike can address both the technical and financial aspects of data warehousing and business intelligence.

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