Who is the decision maker?

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In academia and industry, Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence areas are alternatively referred to as Decision Support Systems (DSS). Ultimate goal of any DW/BI project is to enable the business organization make better and informed decisions. It is imperative to understand the traits of decision maker within the organization in order to align the project goal with their objectives, which will result in successful adoption.

There are several forms of information consumption by a humans and visual representation of data delivers the right message quickly and effectively. Users based on different roles typically have distinct requirements and there are different ways of displaying data.

A decision maker (or end user) generally falls under either one of the following two categories. At times, a decision maker can switch between the two based on their role and scope of an initiative. One key thing to remember is that each user will exhibit different levels of interest on a KPI or measure based on their current assignment. A decision makers role, level and job assignment decides the KPI’s and data that will be monitored and have access to. For example, consider Total Sales Amount, Sales Forecast which is of interest to everyone in the hierarchy right from CEO to VP of Sales, to Managers and finally Area Sales Executives. The only difference here is that CEO and VP gets to see data for across the organization including Forecast, whereas Managers/Sales Executives are authorized only for Sales Amount under their purview.

  1. Strategic: Users with a long term view and are in positions that have impact of business climate, progress in different aspects. Impact of these decisions take sizable time to bear fruit and are often seen in management positions. Organizational budget outlay and monitoring outcome of an initiative often under control of these users.
  2. Operational: Users of this type are driving the organization. They have short term goals to be achieved and are making decisions on daily basis on many mundane items and some out of the box items. At the end of the day, all activities by operational users are collated and reported to strategic decision makers.

Although there are two distinct types of users, in reality any BI project will have a mix of both providing requirements. Each user needs are different and hence the expectations are also different. In many situations, the target user base will be heavily skewed towards operational decision makers when compared to strategic ones.

In a BI project, the quantum and variety of requirements for operational decision making is more than strategic decisions. Strategic decision makers may love a colorful and jazzy dashboard, but operational decision makers will ask for simple table with a column chart. This is just a simple example, but entire spectrum of complexity in requirements and delivery can be seen in operational reporting.

At many instances, strategic decision makers delegate or take cognizance of operational decision makers before deciding on final outcome. Although strategic decision makers are important, but in reality the operational decision makers hold the key for successful BI adoption.

Personal Note: BI projects also run into another tug of war between the Business Users and IT Users. This technology versus business turf war depends on corporate structure and management practices. Irrespective of who the project sponsor is i.e. Business vs IT, the decision maker always comes from Business side during final sign-off.