The 1989 movie UHF is a cult classic. It follows the quixotic efforts of protagonist George Newman (played by “’Weird Al” Yankovic) to turn around a failing UHF television station. In desperation, George allows the station’s janitor, Stanley Spadowski, to have his own show. Stanley’s show becomes a huge success in part because it features contests with winners being “rewarded” by being allowed to “drink from the firehose.”
You can imagine the result of this dubious prize. One winner gets comically launched across the room by the firehose, soaking wet, potentially injured and no less thirsty.
The scene reminds me of how many organizations try to make their foray into Business Intelligence (BI) and data analysis: providing as much data as possible to users in such a way to make it a firehose-like experience where users are inundated with data to the point of making them overwhelmed and unable to act.
At Trilix we have seen this problem in many organizations. Their data projects start with the best of intentions, but often devolve into a race to provide as much data as possible. The failure usually associated with this can be frustrating for both the project team and the end users.
Due to our business focus approach and nature of the services we provide, including custom application development and systems integration, we see much of our client’s data and gain insights on how to best leverage that data. As a result, providing a service that leverages these experiences provides our current and future clients immense value.
To provide our clients the best outcome, we utilize a holistic approach to BI projects that combines business, data and technology portions.
From a business perspective, we start with the users. It is extremely important to think about user types. Are they front line workers, managers or executives? Each of those user types needs different information or differing views on the same information to be effective.
Focusing on how users interact with data is also critical. Mobile devices, web views and email are different potential platforms for building dashboards and reports that have different options that must be considered. As a result, it is important to know what devices your users are utilizing.
Frequency of interaction is another important factor. For example, a front-line worker who views data daily will have completely different needs than an executive who views a dashboard weekly or monthly. A user can view data, dashboards and reports more “at a glance” or a deeper dive, where drill down is required. Whatever the circumstances, these factors must be considered.
There are also data considerations. What data is needed to meet your users’ needs? Once the locations of the data are determined, an assessment of the condition of that data is needed. Is the data stored logically and consistent in format and in type? Analysis of these factors will help determine the best way to retrieve the data, tidy it up (which can represent a considerable amount of effort) and store it in a way that enables reporting and analysis. This is what we techie types call extracting, transforming and loading of data (ETL).
There is an obvious technical component as well. We have seen much success with several tools. Stitch is used to extract data from its sources and load it into a data warehouse. Panoply, which utilizes Amazon’s Redshift data warehouse, is used for storage of data. Microsoft Azure SQL Data Warehouse also provides an excellent data storage option.
Once stored, we leverage BI tools such as Microsoft Power BI or Tableau to manipulate data and make changes to make it easier to cross reference and author meaningful reports and dashboards. These tools provide great visualization and report options that users find engaging.
This holistic approach provides clients with a better means to start or continue their data analysis journey on a solid foundation based on business goals and user need.
We find that once users get a taste of properly executed dashboards and reports it opens a new world. Sometimes it means changing process to improve efficiency, defining a new strategy or providing enlightening and unexpected insight.
We use the term “data rich, information poor” to describe the state many organizations find themselves prior to engaging in a BI project; as a result, our goal is to make our clients rich in actionable data. Instead of overwhelming users with data (the firehose) or eliciting a reaction of “I guess that is interesting,” we focus on providing BI reports and dashboards that can help organizations change their perspective and reach new heights.
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