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Cover image for Determining the worth of one-off Reporting.

Determining the worth of one-off Reporting.

ronsoak profile image ronsoak ・4 min read

While some companies service one-reporting from their pool of BI analysts , often on a rostered basis, my company has a dedicated team. A team I am now responsible for.

Fast forward to my first meeting with the head of department, the agenda; the next two years.

Now I thought I was prepared for this meeting, I knew exactly how I was going to improve the team and by when, this was familiar ground for me.

However, he didn’t want to know about any of that. He instead wanted to determine if the team should exist at all. We had struggled to retain staff in the team for any serious length of time and the work we were doing was always of questionable worth to the company. Maybe I could be spending my time retiring the team.

I mean would the company go under if my team didn’t exist?

No, in fact some wouldn’t even notice and those who do ‘depend’ on us would find a way to get what they wanted, sure the calibre of analytics being carried out in our absence would be of questionable quality but it wouldn’t stop anyone.

So if the company could theoretically survive without us, is all the blood sweat and tears that I intend to pour into team over the next 24 months worth it?

Is it worth doing all that work to still be treated like shit by the first stakeholder who doesn’t want to hear that we can’t deliver 8 days worth of work by tomorrow?

And at first I really didn’t know, the negative aspects of BI can really be soul crushing and its tempting to view all of the one off reporting we have delivered as insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Sure a few of the urgents may have actually been valid on the day but how many of those tickets were a catalyst for significant business change still being felt three, six, or nine months later?

How many actually effected a decision worth millions in revenue?

I sure as shit didn’t know, no one ever told us what effect our reports actually had after the fact. Probably because that would involve the customer actually admitting that they over inflated the worth of the report when they put in their request. We’ve all heard “this will be instrumental in a multi-million dollar decision being made tomorrow.”

What I did know is that some clients didn’t even use the data we gave them, or went ahead and summed two averages together and used that metric as an ‘insight’ for months after the fact....and in board reports (facepalm.)

Once I was in that negative mindset it became extremely difficult to see any reason why the team should be kept.

I could take my team and integrate into the wider BI pool and spend the rest of our days building models and reports that actually mattered.

However, I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it, the team had worth to the business and could become more worthy in time. Even we were just a cog.

For example, I see us as a form of stress relief for our clients, though sadly not many of them seem to care much about our stress levels. For some, like product teams, we help shed light on what they should develop next. For those who have a hunch or a belief about something, we can add credibility, and for those utterly lost about something we can guide them to safer waters. If you strip back pre-tense about needing to be an influence on the bigger picture in terms of revenue or customer retention then my teams purpose can be sold as something that keeps people happy and things ticking over. As the world becomes more data driven people will turn to analytics more and more, even for the small things. A lot of smaller progress can really add up.

Building on that point, I also see my team as a vessel for good PR for the wider Business Intelligence function. Our net casts wide across the business and we deliver more in terms of quantity to the company. Which allows us to build small amounts of goodwill faster.

This, I feel, is important. Modern BI sadly still needs to prove itself, despite being a very old field. We are not an infallible entity. The data and the systems we build constantly undermine us, the definition of the truth is fluid and our space is filled with so many jargon words even if a consumer wanted upskill themselves for our benefit there would be just as much chance it would lead them wrong (i.e nosql). BI is not like physics, we can just stand still and say 'look thats the truth' we need to constantly work hard to present it in the right light because if BI is left alone, its reputation naturally slides. The more good work my team can do, the better our reputation. The more trust we can build. In my mind BI teams should be revered like ancient librarians, keepers of the knowledge, respected by all. That reputation needs to be earned, it can’t be demanded.

If I retired the team, meaning that our division would only provide repeat reporting and cubes for self serve, this, as I mentioned earlier, would reduce the caliber of analytics being carried out by those giving it a shot on their own. Having a central source for analytics means a consistent approach, especially over factors that have more than one way of doing things or aren’t obvious to figure out.

Yes, the company can exist without us but we are not the only function that could apply to. But it wouldn’t be clean, it would come as a trade off, a certain element of comfort and efficiency would be lost. It would be like firing all your designers and giving all your marketing staff photoshop. It would work, technically, but you would be trading off many advantages.

The important thing is that we can provide worth to the company now, in many forms. We can also grow and provide more in the future, and maybe, just maybe we’ll figure out how to stop the stakeholders from being so rude.

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ronsoak profile

ronsoak

@ronsoak

Data Analysis Team Lead at Xero in Wellington NZ. Dev tag moderator and passionate about space! All views expressed here are my own.

Discussion

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Been through that whole spectrum of emotions in a similar position over the years and, ultimately, came out at the same conclusion as you have. There is very much still a place for a dedicated "ad-hoc request" BI team in the modern mix of data and analytics support. Tightening up your work reception processes to weed out the timewasters early on will help reduce your stress levels over the longer term. But I would never advocate retiring the function altogether and give in to the creeping hell of self-service BI.

Looking forward to seeing how this pans out for you over the next 6-12 months.

 

What is the software pictured in the screenshot?

 

Sorry don’t know. Stock image.