Key Questions to Ask Stakeholders for Big Data/BI Reporting Initiatives

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Big Data |Key Concepts in Data Analytics – Key Questions to Ask Stakeholders for Big Data/BI Reporting Initiatives

Data, metrics, trends, information, dashboards, sales, leads, opportunities, and business decisions – do these words pique your interest? Throughout my career in the business analysis and business intelligence arena, I’ve helped the business make informed decisions through the analysis of trends and metrics, and in the process, I’ve made some interesting discoveries.  I’ve seen organizations across the globe invested millions, and at times billions of dollars in business intelligence (BI), reporting, and data analytics tools for the purpose of understanding their business. Unfortunately, despite this significant investment, I’ve seen senior leadership at some organizations dealt with the harsh reality that they still don’t trust the data or information mostly because they had poor visibility into their operations, customers, supply chain, data warehouse, and even partner ecosystems. For your big data initiative, I’d share some of my lessons learned in these projects in form of key questions you could ask your stakeholders so that you don’t run the risk of falling into a data driven trap. These questions drive my requirements sessions with business owners, core users, and stakeholders. By the end of this article, you’ll discover why inquisitive questions are so important. I have these questions stored in my own mental warehouse that itching to come to light and thought, “what a great idea to jot them down and share with my readers!”

Big data…how would you describe it? Everyone talks about it; nobody really knows how to do it, yet everyone thinks everyone else is doing it…so everyone claims they’re doing it…Why the big hype? Why now? Does the revived analytics excitement and hype have anything to do with the emergence in the past decade of social networking, mobile devices, cloud computing, and big data? From the data management perspective, I think so because data is so relevant to an organization – it is captured, stored, managed, and consumed outside of a business core infrastructure – in cloud-based apps like, on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, and embedded chips within smart devices found around the home, vehicles, and other domains.  In today’s article, I’d like to illustrate the big picture of big data and why a deep dive into data can make or break your business and ultimately your bottom line. In a nutshell, big data is a core trend that takes the advancement of data management and analytics and uses it as a tool to transform the business. It allows businesses to harness, gain, and mine competitive insights from the huge volumes of data coming in from multiple, disparate sources of information (social networks, cloud, and mobile) and marrying this data with traditional data for a complete and accurate picture.

Let’s start out with the basics of data analytics. Do you know that data analytics can help you and your customers make better, smarter, and more informed decisions?  Analytics can unearth something new about your business by shedding light on questions related to customers and their markets, revealing correlations between crucial data points, and predicting future behavior based on various factors that impact your relationship with your customers, your business heart line, and your marketability. It takes a strong business acumen, creativity, problem solving, and curiosity to understand the data.

What is Data Analytics? What does Big Data mean to you?

According to, data analytics is “the science of examining raw data with the purpose of drawing conclusions about that information”. In essence, the use of data analytics enables companies and businesses to improve their decision making and operational efficiencies by giving them a deep dive into their data in a number of ways – dynamic, real-time, predictive, and retrospective.

Everyone may be familiar with dynamic, real-time, and even retrospective, but does everyone really know predictive when it comes to looking for trends and forecasting? Data analytics involves so much more than simply seeing data. Predicative analytics utilizes statistics, data mining, and data modeling to understand the patterns of data to identify current weaknesses, strengths, threats, and future opportunities. For the astute, analytical thinkers, yes, I’ve purposely outline the four elements of SWOT analysis because I can see how SWOT plays a role in big data. If you, like me, have a keen interest in helping your organization reach their goals and make evidence based decisions before making change where data is the key driving force, then you’ll know why these four areas are so crucial.

As a business, you need to get a clear understanding and an agreement from your stakeholders want exactly does big data mean to them. This will help you understand the types of questions you can address and target for your business intelligence projects. For example, ask them, “What does the term Big Data mean to you?” They may provide you any one or more of these – a) a large unified, single source database; b) predictive analytics; c) multiple data sources; or d) unstructured data such as data from social media. Also include in your discussion their vision of the types of data or information that they think are essential for them to achieve sales and marketing success. To them, data can include international data, sales data (e.g. product/service, data, pricing, territory, inventory, etc.), contact or customer data, demographic data, geolocation data, preference data, and behavioral data.

Key Factors

Let’s imagine that you’ve been tasked to create an innovative, intuitive reporting dashboard for your sales force and stakeholders on your e-commerce site or app, or even the products and services you’re selling, for example. You are spending a lot of your finite resources and time on BI projects, cleaning up your data, or analyzing solutions to handle the vast amounts of raw data that you’re being asked to process. You find yourself analyzing, reporting, and dashboarding yet not providing any information of value. What would you need to know in order to deliver what they’re looking for? First and foremost, you would need to ask the right questions to determine the metrics necessary to report on business results. Having a full grasp and understanding of the below key concepts would help you provide critical useful and meaningful data that drives better decision making.

Interviewing your user base customers with the questions presented herein will help you identify solution requirements, assess how value is created for them when presented with useful data that can help them achieve their goals, and determine the needs that require the greatest investment and focus. This will provide you with a context and framework to build the most interactive, meaningful display of data while supporting the business direction and deliver on quantifiable goals. Your overarching goal should be to leverage the tools, technology and in-house talent you have to get the complete picture.

1. Know the Business Domain. Knowledge of the business domain is very instrumental for anything data driven. It includes understanding the current state, the processes, the business rules, and the transactional applications used in the day-to-day operations. A lack of insight into operational inefficiencies, combined with a lack of trust or visibility in enterprise information can lead to bad decisions that are based on incomplete, misleading, and untrustworthy data. In past projects, I’ve seen quite too often how IT drives and delivers reporting capabilities without consideration for the business data quality and standardization requirements. Playing the role of data steward, I discover a need to drive data standards, capture business requirements, and prioritize which data from which sources of information are most relevant and critical to optimize the most important business processes and decisions. Therefore, I can’t stress how important it is to know your business domain so that you can provide the most trusted and differentiated information and insight to your stakeholders and decision makers. You would be able to help your company gain a competitive edge and become the market leader with the most loyal customers in the decades to come. Here are some questions to ask your stakeholders:

  • What decisions are they’re trying to make?
  • What are the most important, strategic questions that need to be answered?
  • What threats are they facing from the competition or a new entrant into their industry?
  • Is there a social trend that threatens to change the way they’re operating their business? If so, what is it?
  • Are they entering a new domestic or international market with their products and services? What challenges are they facing that a dashboard or a report will help them make better decisions?

2. Know the problems and pain points. Any solution being delivered need to address problem areas and pain points. Here are some questions to ask your stakeholders and power users so that you can get started on the right foot and help you architect a viable solution and generate meaningful business intelligence and analytics:

  • What problems do they encounter when trying to generate meaningful business intelligence and analytics? Are these problems related to a) lack of training; b) lack of flexible data/systems; c) inability to consolidate data across channels; d) inaccurate data; e) not enough information available; f) too much information available; g) no analytics resources?
  • What problems have they encountered within the last 12 months with their customer engagement? Do these problems include a) inability to analyze customer information; b) inability to create compelling offers or messages; c) lack of customer participation; d) inability to access disparate customer information; e) having inaccurate data on the customer; f) lack of sufficient information about the customer?
  • What percentage of their revenue/funding do they think inaccurate and incomplete customer or prospect data costs the organization in terms of wasted resources, lost productivity, wasted spend on marketing and communication?
  • What do they think might contribute towards the lack of customer data accuracy?
  • What common data errors to customer data cause the biggest problems?
  • What channels do they use to collect customer or contact data? What channels present the most problems when it comes to collecting good quality data?
  • What challenges do they face when they engage in cross-channel marketing?

3. Data in and of itself is useless – it’s not the data; it’s what we do with it. It doesn’t matter that you have a ton of data unless that data can be converted into useful and insightful information. How can you make data into useful, meaningful information? It involves taking the data, organizing it, and presenting it in an analytic form for easy interpretation. Every big data initiative should have Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs which provide a quick overview of the data. KPIs are simply data compilations that represent different ways to view and analyze your performance data and evaluate your success in terms of making progress toward strategic goals. Engage your stakeholders to determine what they are. KPIs are different for different business segments or departments. The KPIs that are useful to Finance, for example, may be quite different from the KPIs assigned to sales. Presentation of data should be based on your stakeholders’ answer to the following:

  • How would they like to view the data? Do they want to see it in a tabular format, interactive graphs and charts, and trending tables?
  • What dimensions are they looking to view the data?
  • How do they want to filter, sort, display, export, and print the data?
  • Do they want to group them into main categories and sub-categories? Do they want to drill down within any KPI or dimension to view more detailed information?
  • How much data do they want to see? Rolling 12-month? Month to Date? Quarter to Date? Year to Date? Do they want to compare the data based on previous years?

Executives like to see high level view and at times, don’t care too much for the granularity. This means that your dashboard or reports should include an Executive Summary, or a “Scorecard”.  This scorecard should provide a quick indication of how the team is performing based on any given KPI and allow them to review at a high-level the data. Understand their needs by asking them the following questions:

  • How do they want to compare data? Anticipate that they would want to perform quick assessments such as comparing data between two different timeframes, identifying problem areas, or viewing data trends across a time period.
  • How do they want to see the data and what do they want to do with it? Your dashboard should ideally provide them something similar to the following views:
    • Trend Chart or Graph: This can be used to view the data for a particular KPI or dimension in a chart or graphical format, showing its trend over a selected time period.
    • Watch List: This can help managers or users to identify opportunities, areas for improvements, top performers, bottom performers, or anything that may raise cause for concern.
    • Action List: This can help managers identify what they would need to do for any particular KPI, dimension, or channel management.
    • What are their strategic and tactical goals for considerations?

How you present your data can make a difference on the usability of the data. At the end of the day, you want your decision makers and stakeholders to easily decipher the information and make informed decisions about process improvements, staff training, cost reduction, inventory losses, and opportunities.

4. Leverage existing BI reports. Before embarking in a new data initiative (and building a new report dashboard), I’d recommend asking your business users questions regarding their use of existing BI reports and what their expectations are for future state compared to their current state. Ask them the following questions and build a dashboard or a set of reports based on their responses:

  • How do they access existing reports and do they want to access future reports in the same way?
  • What’s the existing frequency of report updates? What are their expectations on new reports?
  • How often is the data updated or refreshed? How often do they want updated data?
  • Are they looking at multiple reports so that together they would be relevant? If so, what are they?
  • What tools are they using for analyzing the data out of these reports?
  • What are the delivery mechanisms for them and do they want to continue to get the reports in similar fashion?
  • What specific features in the existing reports that they like most and would not want to lose it that may cause potential business implications?
  • What issues or pain points do they have with the reports?
  • Are the goals in the existing reports still relevant?
  • What are the different parameters used in these reports and are they the same for the new reports or dashboard?
  • What other reports do they cross check to ensure the accuracy of the report?
  • What reporting metrics or KPIs are being created in these reports?
  • What formulas are used in these reports? What are the business rules and calculation?
  • How do the existing reports help them perform their routine analysis or help them do their job?
  • What one off reports are being created as a result of missing or bad data?
  • Who are the power users for each of these reports?
  • Can all the reports be viewed by everyone? How are the users segmented for reports accessibility and user security?
  • What are the common dimensions and hierarchies used in these reports?
  • What drills down capabilities exist in the reports and should be part of the new dashboard?

5. Customers and consumers are talking. Technology has empowered them, changing the sales and marketing landscape. They’re making informed purchasing decision using their smart devices, social media, and search engines to maximize their options. They’re influencers. They’re sharing with their friends, their networks, and other consumers about your company, products, services as well as their personal interests that can provide a gold mine of data about consumer opinions and behaviors – that is, invaluable insights to shape how your business can best engage with your customers to provide optimal products, services, and experience. You would need to be able to capture and analyze this information. As a result, you probably find yourself faced with fulfilling the need of your business users, executives, and stakeholders who are expecting or even demanding better information and insight about your customers in order to compete in this volatile, technology-centric market. In this new landscape, many organizations such as yours are faced with supporting many new ways to identify a customer while integrating disconnected and siloed applications found throughout your enterprise and managing growing data volumes that ultimately hinder the scalability of your analytic platforms. Your analytic solution (or dashboard) should ideally bridge digital and physical worlds to build and maintain a multi-channel view of your customers and prospects. That is, your system should allow your users (or sales force) to connect with their customers more real-time, relevant, and personalized, providing touch points to aid in the communication.  It should also provide customer behavioral segmentation and analytics, displaying a unified view of the customer across many dimensions. Ask your stakeholders and/or power users the following questions to determine the best way to explore reporting and analytics and data management:

  • Where are they now and where do they need to be?
  • What is the current state of their business processes and what will they look after the solution is completed?
  • What does their product roadmap look like for the fiscal year and beyond?
  • What are the budget, timelines, constraints, risks, and resources for the project?


Think about your stakeholders’ strategic goals. Consider them when coming up with questions that need to be answered to meet those goals. Provide information that’s relevant to those strategic decisions. Most importantly, challenge any request that doesn’t provide the traceability back to the business goals. You want to build a solution that will fit strategically to your organization’s goals and performance monitoring. Engage your stakeholders and power users to help you determine and plan the shortest and smartest path from their enterprise-driven needs to delivery. This will help you to reduce waste and focus on the core functionality that will meet your organization’s strategic goals and provide the best ROI. Overall, voice of the customer is the best way to capturing meaningful business intelligence and innovating analytics to drive sales and customer satisfaction.

We, at Broadwave, like data. We work with our clients to provide and utilize robust analytics for your initiatives. Connect with Broadwave Agency on social media, including Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter, LinkedIn, Vimeo, and YouTube, for the latest news and updates.

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