Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Business Intelligence Chronicles Part 2: Flexible is Flexible, Fixed is Fixed, and never the twain shall meet

With apologies to Rudyard Kipling "Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet"

The biggest wow factor for OLAP based BI applications has been the flexibility for the end users - slice and dice, drill up and down, build reports on the fly. The techies were the first to be floored. And next came the Analyst types. My Finance users loved the first Financial Insight we came out with. Adopted the same approach for a Sales Insight and the response was mixed. Lot of positive as well as negative feedback.

I myself went into the Field and took couple of the developers along too, conducted a few sessions with the Field Sales Force and sat through some training sessions. As I discovered first hand the response spanned 2 extremes - many of the more computer savvy sales reps were all wows and praising the flexibility of the application and it's analytical abilities as being the next best invention since sliced bread. On the other hand many others had their eyes glazed over. They were still stuck 3 steps behind where the trainer was. "Can we not get our standard XYZ report mailed to us weekly", was their refrain. The daily availability of cube based reports or ability to drill down to specifics did not impress them.

Boy, we had a big problem on hand. Substantiated that by conducting an end user survey at an upcoming Sales Meet attended by the entire sales Force. (A slight detour - the response rate for the user survey was near 100% since we conducted a lucky draw for iPods every night amongst those who submitted). Voila ! In an open ended question to list the Top 5 weaknesses and Top 5 strengths of the application - "Flexibility" found pride of place on both sides. On one side it was as Very Flexible - Easy to Use on the other side it was Too Flexible - Need Fixed reports.

Needless to add , while retaining cube based reporting for the analytical kinds ,we added "canned" reports with some routine prompts for the Sales Force. Next Sales Meet was a different story altogether. More on that later....

In this case, Fixed and Flexible did meet as we pursued a Middle Path.

Moral(s) of the story :

1. One size does not fit all.

2. Nothing beats going out into the Field and interacting with the end users. I would recommend all CIOs to mandate some end user interaction for all - including developers. Let them sit through some of the end user training sessions where their applications are deployed. The first hand feedback will be invaluable.

3. Feedback, Feedback, Feedback - the good old fashioned user survey can still come in handy at times. And nothing like an iPod or iPhone or the latest iGadget to get the completed forms back in.

4. The users is always right ! make the changes required. If not fully, meet them atleast half the way.


Tracy White said...

Thanks, Deepak. I laughed out loud, and your writing is very engaging.

vivek said...

very true indeed...the world would be a better place if Field surveys & Feedbacks could reduce even 10-20% of wasteful IT expenditure which happens year after year...

My won experiences say that most of the DWH, BI & Analytics applications in many major companies across the globe have a stale-death post Going body except Appsupport people use these applications....primarily because people who don't understand business...deploy technology for business...& business people...the feedback from them in most of the cases is taken during some Fancy meets like JUID(Joint User Interface Design Workshops)...ADR (Analysis & design review) meet etc etc...which happens in spikes & not in a continuam,.....resulting in AppThrow post AppLive...

very intriguing peice of writing indeed

Deepak Seth said...

Tracy - Thanks ! Keep Reading

Vivek : very true. My experience too. We can pull the plug on some BI apps we developed without any user complaining. In such cases the BI tool is delivering capabilities more advanced than what the user needs or can handle.

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