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The BI and analytics space is abuzz with activity. There are new conferences, new tools, and new trends emerging all the time. But in the midst of all this excitement, it's important to remember who we're actually solving problems for: the data consumers.

Too often, BI and analytics practitioners get caught up in the latest hot topics and forget to ask the most important question: Is this actually solving a problem for my data consumers?

Here are a few questions to help you answer that question:

  • If your data consumers sat in on your presentations, would they understand what you're talking about?
  • Do your data consumers actually care about what you're doing?
  • Will what you're working on solve a problem that they're actually facing?
  • Are your data consumers actually engaged by the proposition of your work?
  • Is what you're working on based on what they need, or what you think the business needs?
  • Can you clearly articulate the "job to be done" and the personas that are positively benefitted?

If you can't answer yes to all of these questions, then you might be solving the wrong problems.So before you jump on the next bandwagon or soapbox, take a step back and ask yourself: Am I solving the right problems for my data consumers?

Credit: Google Bard’s

As context, in a recent LinkedIn post I lead off these observations with this summary:

“The BI & Analytics space is currently lit (again? Always?). It’s a vibrant- but relatively finite-community of very smart people. But it’s just too easy to get wrapped around our own “data people” business problems that the huge swath of “non-data people’ data consumers isn’t factored into decision-making enough. It’s dangerous.”

Across a few conferences, this took on some different looks, and at least one may hit home for you.

  • Everyone is nodding and commiserating about dealing with MDM.
  • There are very dense conversations going on about the right data catalog implementation.
  • A huge room of BI leaders are hearing the opposing arguments for consolidating analytics assets to a single enterprise solution (or not).
  • Cocktail commiseration around the never-ending report requests from data consumers.

And at least once at each of the conferences referenced (to be clear, these conferences were overall awesome for quality and participants) there was huge advocacy for people-centric change to drive a data-driven culture, followed by a round of applause.

You know who was absent? The data consumer! As a wise man once said, "are we just standing around sniffing each other's farts?"…I think it's a less popular way of saying “preaching to the choir”. Let me be clear: It is wildly valuable to have a community of similar practitioners to share best practices, brainstorm, and problem-solve with. But we need to listen and evangelize, not commiserate and group-think. In a function that should act with empathy and in service of others we should always ask:

Are we solving OUR perceived problems, or falling in love the problems of our immediate customers and working towards those solutions?

All that time at these conferences spent on big, known “BI hot topics” and themes…could more of that time be spent intensely focused on your customer? Can you confidently argue the topics you care about are in fact in service of your clients? Does it matter if we solve some of these huge themes if broader base of data consumers are forgotten, left in the cold or don’t care? Here are some ways to check your gut and your blinders at the door to decide if you need to stay the course or alter path.

If your customers sat in on presentations and research you’re interested in, what would they say?

Non-data people don’t need to know the intricacies of what you’re deploying. But they do need to understand the outcome and love it. This doesn’t count: “Oh, I guess that’s good…right?” That isn’t buy-in and you’re not really aligned.

Does an end-consumer actually care about what you’re doing?

“What we should do” “What we really need” make my whole body tighten up in this space when I hear it. If you are confident you are translating feedback into the actual ask based on your expertise this can be very powerful. It’s also rare. As data/bi/analytics practitioners it’s very easy to see what would make our lives easier, create cost efficiency, etc. inside of BI. That is not the same as solving problems for data citizens and moving the purpose of BI ahead.

Will what you’re working on solve a problem that plagues your data consumers?

To answer this you have to be confident that you understand what they do, what they struggle with and what draws them further away from data everyday. If you can answer yes and support it with the problem and how you’re addressing it, great! If your answer is “they should want to use a data catalog b/c it should make their life better” you’re not there yet. Behind that is the problematic fact that they don’t know or don’t yet care how that makes things better. If you havne’t made the connection they’ll just be talking behind your back about how you didn’t even consider the issue they deal with on a consistent basis.

Are your data consumers actually engaged by the proposition of your work/project happening? How many?

Have you created a rally-cry behind what you’re implementing, or has everyone left you to “do what it is that you do”. Make sure it’s the former. There is so much to learn from not being an order-taker. Instead, spend some real time with those “non-data people” and get them jazzed if the needs really do align.

Is what you’re working on based on what they need or what you think the business needs?

Focus on the people’s needs, not the businesses if you want to create impactful, practical change. I’m aware I’m walking on a razor’s edge with this one. It’s incredibly important that creators and innovators do not always build the exact thing that a customer tells them to build. We have to listen, discern, and use our expertise decide HOW we will address it in the best way possible. BUT…analytics developers and BI analysts cannot fall into the trap of leapfrogging to the thing you think the “business” needs. If you do, it sounds like “it’s the right thing for the business”—which eliminates the actual data consumer/persona—and “they should be able to learn how this also solves their problem”. Right or wrong, when my mom would tell 24-year-old me what I “really should do”, it rarely took my needs and feedback into account. And her recommendation rarely got implemented.

Can you clearly articulate the “job to be done” and the personas that are positively benefitted?

Some underlying problems aren’t that well known to the end-user so there’s wiggle room here. If the dots aren’t connecting, how much time are you doing to build the case? I harp on personas because I’ve made these mistakes before. It was so clear to me what I thought would the best, most impressive way to solve a problem, that I hadn’t really listened to the user persona. Since I hadn’t done this, I didn’t see the problem or solution through their eyes. Without that, I often overcomplicated the build, the interface, or went so above and beyond the implementation was a bust. If you cannot accurately speak for the data consumer and tell their story, then you are at-risk of working on something the BI category has told you is important, not what your customers need from you.

I’m feeling more in-market these days because I’m listening to and meeting with more of my customers. When I noted the contrast between doing what BI says I should do and what customers are saying, it became imperative to pass it on. I want to make sure I’m helpful and part of the solution. So when you find yourself jumping on a bandwagon or soapbox of BI hot topics check to see who you’re surrounded by. Are you in the wagon full of BI practitioners making a case for huge capital expenditures being driven by the category? Are those looking up at you on your soapbox excited peers, or enthralled customers that want you to win for them? Go get the latter.