Analytics, Reporting, and working with the power Excel user

Mike Kavis asks the question, “Why are you still generating reports?” In his blog, he states that “we should empower the users to create their own reports.” This brings up an interesting discussion. Anyone who has worked in IT for a few years know that there’s a significant amount of work that is done using Excel. Excel is the empowered user’s tool of choice. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? On the one hand, individual users are empowerd. On the other hand, is the analytics being performed of value to more than just that user? Could someone with a computational background perform those same analytics in a much more efficient manner?

The statement that Mike makes for which there is absolutely no argument against was this one:

When users ask for a report, the business analyst must ask the user, “What problem are you trying to solve?”

Ultimately, IT and the power user should be collaborating on what the best solution is. The user may have a need for ad hoc analytics, but there should also be a way that those analytics come back into the fold and are available for broader use. If the power user wants IT to simply get out of the way or IT simply wants to maintain tight controls on information, that’s a sign of an unhealthy relationship. Rather, both parties should be concerned with leveraging each other’s strengths to the fullest extent to create the best solution.

James Taylor (not the singer) posted a followup to Mike’s blog that makes similar points. He also suggests that we dig into the reasons behind the request for information. Given his focus on enterprise decision management, he suggests focusing on the decision that the person was trying to make, rather than on the information used to support that decision. The key similarity between my message, Mike’s, and James’ is that we need to go beyond the initial request and understand the purpose behind it. Odds are that there’s something else that IT can be helping out with.

3 Responses to “Analytics, Reporting, and working with the power Excel user”

  • Rob Eamon:

    “we should empower the users to create their own reports.�

    Did that come from the 70’s?
    :-)

    SQL was created for “business users” way back in the day in an attempt to allow this very thing.

    Clearly the root “issue” still exists.

    “The statement that Mike makes for which there is absolutely no argument against was this one:

    When users ask for a report, the business analyst must ask the user, “What problem are you trying to solve?â€?”

    Here’s one argument against that sort of question: the user might kick your butt. “Why do you guys always over analyze things? I just want this report. And why are you so out of touch with the business that I have to explain the problem I’m trying to solve?”

    Ideally, in a collaborative team environment where user and analyst are working side-by-side regularly the user won’t have to request a report and the analyst won’t have to ask the “what problem” question.

  • I agree with what you said about the collaborative environment. As far as asking about what problem the business user is trying to solve, while I agree that we may not want to be that blunt about it, if the user provides answers like you suggest, I think that’s representative of a poor relationship. Someone has to bend to try to make it work right, and I’d rather be on the side of trying to understand, even if it there’s some short term friction. If I’m able to take that little opening and show them a better way that they hadn’t thought about, that win will go a long way.

  • […] this one a little in his last post. And now from Mike Kavis and James Taylor, via the ever-smart Todd Biske, there’s another anecdote that further shores up this […]

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