Does One Size Fit All?

How business intelligence can be used across varying skill levels.

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“I don’t like BI platforms. Why can’t I just code instead?”

This is a snippet from a conversation I had with a very advanced and skilled analyst around BI software during a recent MBA class. The data analyst I’m referring to was talking about his day-to-day work life, saying that his company provides him with several BI platforms and analytics tools to use (including Qlik), but he doesn’t need, nor does he like them. He is such an advanced coder and analyst that simply writing a line of code usually gets him to the answer more quickly than any platform could. So while those in positions of authority at his organization adored Qlik and other solutions, he found little use for them.

And I have to take my hat off to him. He is clearly more than competent at what he does and plays to his strengths, relying on how good he is at SQL, VBA, and Python instead of turning to a tool to do it for him. In his view, doing that is more efficient. So what was my response?

“I couldn’t disagree with you more.”

I know what you’re thinking. Well wait, David, that’s double speak!

Let me explain. No matter how advanced someone is, I am a firm believer that there is always something to be gained from using a BI solution. For this talented gentleman, I began to ask questions to uncover just what his use case for BI would be.

“Do you need to visualize or present the data?”

He affirmed that need, but as secondary to just having the data and finding an answer. So data visualization wasn’t it.

“Well one of the powers of Qlik is connecting disparate data sources or even transforming unstructured data. Surely your company needs this.”

That’s when he informed me about the architecture of his company’s data farms and warehouses. So he didn’t need the full power of an ETL tool. But, I wasn’t discouraged. No one benefit of a BI tool is better than another — one size doesn’t fit all. I could’ve listed several more: social sharing, easier collaboration, democratization of information, single source of truth, etc.

But then it dawned on me.

“You often have to answer complex questions and you feel BI solutions are many times a slower solution for you than writing a macro or running a query. But don’t you also have many lower level questions you get asked all the time? And how often do those questions often have slight variations — just for last quarter, last month, for a particular region, a particular sales rep, product, etc.? Imagine how much time you actually save building a quick, associated data model and BI app to answer these on the fly. Perhaps they can just be a quick way to spit out input for another predictive tool or become raw data for your Excel workbook. Maybe you even give that app to the business to do self-service analysis and free up your time for advanced analytics.”

His eyes widened. He had always seen BI as a time waster, but with one conversation, he now saw its potential to be a time saver.

And that’s just one example.

So, what’s the moral of the story? Yes, you should absolutely rely on your skill set to perform your job. But begin to view BI as a viable and critical tool in your tool chest, because if there’s a person that can’t benefit from BI in some way, I haven’t met them yet.

Photo credit: außerirdische sind gesund via Foter.com CC BY

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