For Dewayne Washington, developing new BI reports is a lot like building a house. Developers take requirements from customers and build a product based on this input.
But Washington, BI manager at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW) International Airport, said he feels BI teams today give too much deference to their customers' input. Speaking at TDWI 's The Analytics Experience conference in Boston, he said bowing to this pressure is like a builder giving a blank blueprint to a property owner and constructing whatever the customer draws. The risk is that the customer might forget to draw a bathroom.
That's why BI teams need to apply their own knowledge and skills to the development of new reports, taking customer BI report requirements as a guide rather than a fully formed plan. BI teams know what data they have and they know what their tools can do. They should be the ones taking the lead on how the final product functions.
Know names as part of BI report refinement
This doesn't mean that business users should be cut out of the process, Washington said. In fact, he takes the opposite approach. He said he requires all of his staff members to know the names of the people in the business department for which they develop reports. He also makes his workers physically sit with the staff in that business line to learn about their jobs, why they need a certain report and how different report features will affect their work.
"Go physically sit where they sit," Washington said. "If we don't sit where they sit, we can't understand what they need."
As an example of this approach, Washington's team developed an app that would allow the airport's wildlife management division to track bird populations across the grounds of the property. Bird strikes -- midair collisions between airplanes and birds -- happen hundreds of times per year and can cause potentially lethal damage to aircraft. DFW's wildlife management team is charged with limiting this risk, but with an airport that covers a larger land area than Manhattan in New York, it isn't always easy to know where bird populations live and what brings them to specific locations.
After spending a day riding around with the wildlife management team, staff from Washington's BI group saw that they would often take pictures of birds out in the field, and then manually enter information about the species and plant life on a map once they were back in the office. The BI team developed an app that does all of this automatically. Since the wildlife management workers were using their smartphones to take the pictures, each image was tagged with GPS coordinates, making the app relatively simple to develop. Now, the wildlife management group can see where bird populations are clustering and what plant life or water features draw them there.
"Whenever you're pushing solutions, if you can push apps instead of reports, that'll make things easier," Washington said.
DFW keeps disruption low-key
This approach to delivering intuitively developed reports and apps is part of a broader philosophy of keeping disruptive change to a minimum. Washington said business users aren't likely to adopt something new if it doesn't offer significantly simplified functionality compared to what they already have, or if it requires them to spend a lot of time learning new processes.
But people are willing to adopt new ways of doing things if they see value. He pointed out that tens of millions of people all over the world have made Facebook a significant part of their daily lives, all without Facebook leading any change management exercises or releasing instructions on how to use the product.
"People don't like to hear, 'We're going to change everything you've been doing.' That doesn't excite most people," Washington said. "But change doesn't have to be hard if it's something worth changing to."
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