Ten Keys to Designing a Successful Business-User Support Strategy

How do you know when your BI project's a success? One measure: users who welcome the BI solution and start using it enthusiastically. Yet so many BI projects fail to meet expectations. We offer ten key steps—from getting the right sponsor and project champion to developing the right training and support—to help ensure your BI project solution is a success.

Business Intelligence (BI) and data warehouse solutions are primarily designed to help business users gain easy access to data and information required for tactical and strategic business activities, including decision-making. In order to be considered successful, a BI solution should be easy to use and used extensively by the business users for whom it was built. However, an InformationWeek survey found that data warehouse projects often fail to meet expectations; among the reasons: many companies do a poor job of understanding the needs of those who will use the system.

Many companies start off on the right foot by involving a business-user representative in the project. While this is a step in the right direction, it brings with it two problems.

First, most often the business-user representative is a "power" user who is really an early adopter by nature. While the power user represents the information needs of the business, he/she is most often technically adept at using products such as Excel and SQL and is quick to comprehend the complex capabilities of the BI tools. In this respect, while the power user may describe the information needs of the organization, he/she does not truly represent the technical prowess of the average business user (who, according to industry benchmarks, makes up over 80 percent of the user population).

Second, almost all approaches to designing a BI solution fail to dive into an area critical to the successful use of any BI solution: how business users operate. Most business users are responsible for one or more specific business functions in areas such as customer credit operations, campaign management, financial operations, and distribution. For a BI solution to have the greatest impact, analytics and information delivery must be function-specific and embedded as part of their daily process.

There are many dimensions which must be addressed to obtain a clear understanding of the needs for a successful rollout of a BI solution. If any of these dimensions is ignored or not addressed, the company runs the risk of facing limited success—or total failure—with its BI solution.

Designing a Successful Business User Support Strategy

The best-designed BI solution will be termed a failure if the intended audience abandons it or continues to use the application it was meant to replace. To ensure that your business users welcome the BI solution with open arms and start using it enthusiastically, include the key steps below in every BI project you undertake.

The design of a successful business user support strategy starts at the beginning of the project:

1. Identify a Business Sponsor. The Business Sponsor must be a senior executive who understands the value the BI solution is going to provide. The sponsor must have the organizational power to drive the solution's implementation. He or she must also be able to authorize and mandate changes in work processes that may be required to ensure business users give up old methods and systems and start using the new BI solution.

2. Identify a Project Champion. While the Business Sponsor provides the political support for the project, the Project Champion is the person who provides the business users with the grass roots support to start using the new solution as part of their daily function. The Project Champion understands the business process (for which the BI solution was developed) at a detail level as well as the BI solution itself. The Project Champion helps the business users put their training on the new solution to work, helps identify the subject matter experts (SMEs) (who may be power or casual users), and provides the critical input required for designing the end solution.

During the project:

3. Determine How Business Users Operate. You must understand the steps that business users go through to obtain, and how they use, information. This involves mapping out the process flow to identify where data is received (as raw material) and how it is turned to information. In addition, you must study and analyze how the business users collaborate and share their insight. By mapping the steps and the process details, you will learn exactly how to embed the BI solution into users' daily processes. You will also be able to design customized training so it truly helps users understand the new solution. Providing these tools will ensure that users give up old tools and methods and migrate to the new solution.

4. Identify the Grouping of Business Users. Identify the specific functional needs of the business users and group them accordingly. Identify how power users, report viewers, and executives will use the solution and what they will expect the solution to do. This will help structure the support each category of users will require.

5. Develop "Solution Usability" Test Plans. User test plans are normally limited to testing the accuracy of reports and data produced by the BI solution. However, it must also include test runs where the user gives up the old "system" completely and uses the new BI solution to determine if it operates in the desired manner.

6. Develop Training Requirements and a Support Plan. Based on the functional requirements of each type of user, define the training requirements. They must include BI tool and customized solution training. In addition, develop a support plan that must include hands-on operational support. This involves assigning a Project Champion or power user to a group of 10 to 20 business users to provide daily support for a pre-defined duration (five to 10 days). This is similar to the "parallel technical support plan" used when phasing out an old system.

7. Develop User Support Documentation and Training Manuals. In addition to training, quick reference guides, manuals, and FAQs must be developed for distribution when training is conducted.

At project implementation:

8. Train All Users on the Solution Developed. A combination of classroom and Web training can prove to be very effective. Plan for refresher training via the Web, as it provides an easy way for users who may not use the solution for a few weeks or months after the training to get up to speed on classroom training. Provide users with the support documents that were developed and provide guidance on their use. Inform users about the help desk and how to use it.

9. Provide "Hands-on" Operational Support. This is very valuable. It helps users apply the training knowledge and learn how to use the BI solution in their everyday activities. This type of training is difficult to provide when the BI solution deployment serves 100 to 1000 users. However, in such a case, the help desk plays a key role.

10. Establish a Help Desk or a Support Site. For very large rollouts involving thousands of users, this is a critical requirement. The first few days and weeks are the "adoption" phase. If users find that there is no one to answer their questions or issues, you run the risk of losing their trust, and the solution will not be used. Resources with knowledge of how the system is used, as well as SMEs who can answer questions such as, "How was this metric calculated?", must staff the help desk. The help desk also becomes the single support entity that lives on after the training and operational support phases are completed.

Finally, successful and happy users are your best friends. Capitalize on their experience with the BI solution by arranging for them to be the "spokesperson." This can be done via a newsletter where the user describes his/her experience with the solution and how it provided the value they were looking for.

About the Author

Vinod Badami is the National Director for Business Intelligence at RCG Information Technology, an IT professional services firm. He has more than 20 years of IT and business intelligence experience in the computer, insurance, banking, financial services, pharmaceutical and telecommunications industries. Prior to RCG IT, Badami managed the Northeast Professional Services business unit for a BI software company and was the Lead Architect for a global systems integrator.