Business Intelligence: Training Is Not Enough

The data warehouse is implemented. The business people have participated in tool training, and can now drill-up, drill-down, answer the questions covered in the tool training, and print reports. But, now what do they do?

For years, some of the most respected business analysts have spent 90 percent of their time finding the data, and only 10 percent of their time analyzing it. Now, they only spend 10 percent of their time getting the right data.

This may represent a fundamental shift in job responsibilities and day-to-day activities. They need to understand the information and the goals of the business more intimately than ever before, and how information from the data warehouse can help the business achieve these goals. Basically, if you don’t understand the information in the BI environment and the business value the enterprise hopes to gain from that environment, simply knowing how to use the tools is of little value.

The best opportunity to start a positive business intelligence culture in the enterprise is the first time the technology is deployed within the enterprise. Establishing an ongoing training and education program is one of the business intelligence program’s primary goals. The training aspects ensure that the business community understands how to use the tools. The education aspects address the need for the business to understand their own information, and how to take advantage of it to achieve business goals.

Teach a Man to Fish

Consider a person learning to fish. He learns to tie the right kind of knot to attach the hook, how to bait the hook, how to cast, and how to reel in the line. A person can learn how to use a fishing rod, without ever getting near the water.

This is similar to training on business intelligence tools, which can be accomplished with any data, including sample data. But, learning to use a fishing rod is not the same as learning how to fish. A true fisherman knows which lures to select, how to catch a bass instead of a carp, where to look for the prize catches, which waters are most likely to yield their bounty, and how to set the hook with just the right amount of force once the fish strikes. This requires education and experience similar to education on the information of a specific business. Just as a fisherman uses different tactics to catch trout in a stream than he uses to catch tuna in the sea, a businessperson must learn to use not only the right tools, but also the right approach to hook the information she needs.

He’ll Eat for a Year

BI education should focus on the business goals, the available information, the business processes, and the decision-making process itself.

The best place to start business intelligence education is with executives at the beginning of a business intelligence program. IT should educate executive management on the capabilities of the business intelligence architecture, so that they understand the return on their investment and the opportunities to do more with information to meet business goals. Half-day executive overviews are a good start with periodic, targeted newsletters and short updates sessions to keep everyone up to date.

When business analysts are actively involved as part of data warehousing teams, they are ideal candidates to facilitate the integration of tool training and information education. They can deliver the tool training in combination with the information education.

Business process-oriented education contributes to finding ways to make decisions more actionable by directly feeding new findings into specific operational processes. This often requires a multidisciplinary approach that can be reinforced by education.

Continuous education is needed. Some companies have successfully created data warehouse user groups to encourage the interchange of ideas, and to funnel new informational needs or analysis requirements into the business intelligence program. Some business managers and power users attend business intelligence conferences, such as TDWI, to learn more about how other companies are using business intelligence technology. Without proper education, using business intelligence tools can be much like ice fishing. Cutting a hole in the ice is not a trivial task. Moving from one location to another requires cutting a new hole into a hidden world. Business intelligence education takes the ice away, allowing the user to cast about for the right answer using the best tools.

About the Authors

Jeff Gentry is the President of Technology to Value LLC. He can be reached at

Sami Lotvonen is Project Manager for Nokia Information Management (Helsinki, Finland). He can be reached at

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