More Thoughts on Becoming Data Driven

data driven

A few weeks ago I published a post on how to become a data driven company.  That post spoke to what managers can do to embed BI in their organizations.  Today, a different perspective on what user departments can do to become more data driven.


Users Won’t Create Their Own Reports


When building an analytics system, don’t let BI vendors convince you that everyone in your company will create their own reports. They won’t.  Virtually every new BI effort starts off with the goal of instant user self sufficiency.  But remember, while BI and analytics are marketed as the wonder drug of data self-sufficiency, actual mileage may vary (I mixed a few industries and metaphors there, but I hope I’ve made my point).


When organizations realize that the wonder drug approach only provides false (and expensive) hope, the next approach  most companies try is to have a set of IT experts use the shiny new BI tool to create predefined reports for users.  While this is a step in the right direction, ultimately it is not the right step to take for two closely-related reasons:


  1. Virtually every BI effort starts with the premise that by distributing reporting responsibilities to the business, there  will be a reduction in the reporting demands on IT. Having IT create the reports largely negates this goal and simply shifts the same work back to IT, albeit with a shiny, new toolset.
  2. When IT creates reports, the report developers are a step removed from the day-to-day input of the people who need the information.  The developers won’t have a hands-on feel for what’s really needed, and might not even understand many of the  function-specific terms used to describe those needs.


Using SMEs to Make Everyone Data Driven


I recently spoke with managers in two Fortune 1000 companies (automotive and a quick service restaurant) who have both come up with the same answer to this problem.  And, both have user communities that are gobbling up their BI capabilities.  The approach is this: Develop a BI subject matter expert (SME or super user) in each user department.  This SME will create the templates and reports for their peers in the department.  Rather than assigning this role to a random person in the department, they have assigned a person who has shown a proclivity for working with data.  This is usually the person in the department everyone already turns to when they need to do something complex in Excel.  (Back in my CPA days, I was the guy.)


Situations will vary, but being the BI SME is usually not a full time role.  These folks have other day-to-day jobs to do.  But, because they are a part of the department every day, they’re in the perfect position to understand what their coworkers are saying and what they really need.


Having a BI SME also saves you from wasting money training folks who aren’t going to get anything out of it.  Train the SME on the complexities of the tools, and train the rest of the department on the few steps necessary to open & use the analyses s/he creates.  Over time, you just might find a growing data competence across your whole organization!


My Recommendation


So, when preparing to roll out your BI or analytics system, don’t expect users to just pick it up.  Build the right organization and use the right tools.  If the need for data is really there, the system will get used.


Would love to hear your thoughts!  Add your comments below or email me at



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