why connecting matters

I have been lucky enough to present and attended several conferences in the last year – while I like presenting and attending presentations, what I find most important are the chance conversations with other users and industry experts.

One example during a recent conference, was a presentation on developing business intelligence for a US based city council – the speaker talked about how they were able to pull in many disparate sources to provide a single reporting platform that covered almost everything the city covered from water quality to fire response times to even prisoner data …

At the end, I was asked what I thought the dashboards and how they were presented – from the brief overview it seemed to provide the information the users were asked for.  We chatted for a while discussion the various metrics and how they actually worked out how to determine when the fire engine response time was calculated, but finally we got to some more in depth questions:

So after reviewing the key charts and metrics, what did the user do next, where did they navigate to?

While they knew what the users had previously as reports and what they had requested, there was no way to know exactly how they used the system or after reviewing the data where they went next, if they looked at other information.

While users within an organization can use a report differently they tend to separate into two areas – executives and analysts.  Execs are mainly interested in several key metrics, with which they measure the business, while analysts and business managers like to be able to drill to the details behind trends and outliers.

This made me think of how difficult it really is to understand how users interact with the systems even with users who are in a fairly close geographical area … I’m dealing with a similar issue at a current client in developing reporting for users but it’s more complicated as their users are located all over the globe in Asia, Europe as well as North and Latin Americas.

So how do you determine what they are actually doing?

– asking questions can help, but you need to also ask, after you have looked at the report WHAT do you do next, WHERE do you navigate and WHY?

At a previous engagement the process was documented by the users as a “standard P&L” they actually looked at the operating expenses & headcount data first, comparing budget vs actuals to see who was over spending – so they knew who to call first!   We were able to replace this with an dashboard style report which highlighted these key metrics in colors, so they were spending more time connecting with their business managers rather than going from report to report.

This made me view the interactions that report consumers have with the reports in a new light – I’ve always been a fan of learning and previously relied on structured learning environments like classrooms or tutorials but I’m now on the outlook for chance encounters more often and what I can learn from them.

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