“We haven’t really thought about that”

If you have been dealing with business analytics related sales activities or are searching for that “right” business intelligence tool, you will find that most organizations:

  • Use manual tasks, that include desktop query and reporting tools, to answer their business questions.
  • Have “something” in place that they are not happy with or is costing them too much money.
  • Have data in multiple silos that they need to access, consolidate and optimize.

Hence, they are usually looking for a low cost business analytics alternative that can provide them with the answers to their business questions, as well as ease of use and functionality they are looking for within their budget. Don’t believe me? Join the many business intelligence groups available in LinkedIn and Quora as well as other social networking type sites and you will see the barrage of questions from those looking for recommendations on BI and analytics tools.

I was on a call the other daya with a well known organization where the “prospect” stated: “We need basic reporting with the ability to access all of our data without moving it or massaging it.”

“Okay? That is absolutely possible,” I replied. “However do you understand the pros and cons that are associated with doing that?”  [...]  Silence…not only could you hear crickets on their phone, but you could hear them in the next conference room over. I took the proverbial saying “Silence is Golden” to another level. It became so uncomfortable that the Account Rep felt he should interject. I interrupted promptly to allow them to answer the question. After about a minute of what seemed like hours of silence, they responded:

“We haven’t really thought about that.” – BINGO! Case closed! Next!

Hmm… “We haven’t really thought about that.”

That’s the problem! No one is taking the time to be proactive and think about what it is they need and are rather just reacting saying, “Let’s see a demo,” “I just need reporting,” or “We need dashboards.” If that is the case, I would recommend you watch a video demonstration which may intrigue you and prompt you to start thinking about what you really need. Then…come talk to me when you have more criteria that will support your business intelligence and analytics initiative. :-)

I digress…in turn, I took this as an opportunity to educate them by asking pointed questions that would help them see what it is they actually need vs. what they thought they needed.

Eight questions I always ask customers to determine what they actually need

  1. Is the data you need to access all in one location? – No
  2. Does the data you have support a majority of questions that will be asked of it? – Don’t know
  3. Would you like answers to questions that occur on a regular basis? – Yes
  4. Would you like your users to answer their own questions on a random basis? – Yes
  5. Would you like your users to explore and discover answers to questions they did not think to ask? – Yes
  6. Do you have a predefined set of KPIs to manage and track business performance? – Yes
  7. Would you like your executives to see an at a glance view of those KPIs? – Yes
  8. Would you like to be aware of “something” when a defined threshold is met? – Yes

Alright, now we are getting somewhere. Each of those questions and responses clearly identifies that their needs are more than just simple reporting as originally desired. They require a solution that encompasses both data integration and content delivery (ETL, reporting, analysis and dashboards).

I further probed as to why they wanted to access all of their data “without moving it or massaging it.”

They replied: “Because building a data warehouse takes too much time and costs too much money.”

Wow! Clearly a response most likely seeded by a competitor, whom believes they can access all of the data directly where it sits, without building a data warehouse (which may be true for some of the competition out there). However, they usually leave out the fact that they MAY still need to ‘move or massage’ the data – they just don’t call it ETL or refer to their process as data integration or even use the words “Data Warehousing.”

I further explained that data integration (ETL) does not have to be about building an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). It can be about building operational data stores, that are refreshed periodically, to support questions that the business users want to ask. It can involve federated queries where the data is accessed from the source without having to stage the data. It can also be about normalizing data in to a small easy to maintain data mart that supports speed of thought analytics for the power users.

Upon those points I provided a demonstration of Pentaho’s Agile BI capabilities which involves a rapid, collaborative and iterative approach to building business analytic applications. At completion of the presentation, the prospect was amazed and pleased stating, “This is exactly what we need.”  Ahh..music to my ears.

People…and I say this with great care…you cannot throw a business analytics tool in your organization and expect it to stick without asking some important questions. It is those answers that will help guide you to the right solution. And most importantly, you cannot put a business analytics tool on top of those “as-is” data sources without knowing what questions are going to be asked of it. I know, it is impossible to know every question that may be asked, but at least have those that are important to tracking your business performance and achieving your goals.

On the majority of calls that I participate in, it seems that organizations just don’t have the time to properly plan and discuss the criteria needed to implement a decision support system. Why? Because everyone is doing more with less these days and researching a BI and analytics tool is…usually…an ancillary responsibility for them. If that is the case, allow us to help you with your research and we will ask those questions you haven’t really thought about.

Regards,

Michael Tarallo
Director of Enterprise Solutions
Pentaho

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