Takeaway: Getting feedback from customers (end-users) is crucial for a successful reporting initiative. Success based on a user-adoption metric.
So this month I want to contrast the approaches we take as data storers and data reporters:
Client focus is more critical for reports and reporting than it is for data collection. Put another way: when writing data collection apps, you might be able to get by without much user feedback but when developing reporting solutions, you cannot get by without consulting users.
Consider these two typical scenarios of data flow between a user and data store.
In the data collection stage, data is consumed (and stored) by an application which is in the domain of the database developer (i.e. you). When the developer and the data consumer are the same person… everyone wins!
In contrast, reporting solutions see end users consuming data. This is about as far removed as you can get from the database developer (i.e. you again). So if there is a disconnect in communication between you two, nobody wins.
I remember seeing a chain of three extra people acting as a communication layer between an end user and a developer. I think it’s because the data collection system was designed and implemented with some success this way.
Bridge the Gap Between Dev and User
Ideally client and analyst can sit down for a 1 on 1 talk. When doing so we need to keep the following in mind:
- People who want data aren’t just curious
They want to solve a problem. And in the rare case they’re not trying to solve a problem, they’re trying to find out whether there’s a problem to solve. So find out what problems users are trying to solve. What are their goals? “Analyze This” or “Improve That” are probably a bit too generic. Find out what decisions get made with this data.
- Summary Reports are Almost Never The End Of The Story
See point 1, People are trying to solve a problem. And if they can’t dig further into data, they’re going to run up against an inevitable roadblock. In the past I’ve seen reporting solutions ditched for the combo solution of in-house-SQL-Guy + copy-and-paste + Excel.
(As an aside, Excel as a solution isn’t too bad. It can serve the needs of the end user. It’s just that I think reporting solutions have the potential to do better)
- Reporting Requirements are Not Report Requirements
See point 1 and 2. I would rather have requirements that start like “I need to analyze the efficiency of widget x” rather than “I need to view a histogram with data from this table”
I end with a quote from the last paragraph of The Data Warehouse Toolkit by Richard Kimball (a book I’ve plugged before):
In Closing … Sweeping away all the details and techniques, the gold coin for the data warehouse professional is to listen to the business. Consistently listening to the user brings us back to what we are supposed to do.