Information Access Road Map – A Guide to Developing a Reporting Environment

APR 25, 2003 1:00am ET
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Organizations that deploy reporting and business intelligence applications without having an enterprise strategy are taking an approach similar to building the Winchester Mystery House. The Winchester Mystery House is an architectural marvel with 160 rooms, handcrafted construction and impressive fixtures. However, there was no set of master plans or blue prints, resulting and inefficient design that underutilized the space it occupied (http://www.winchestermysteryhouse.com). Developing a reporting environment, whether it is a data warehouse, operational data store, data mart, OLAP cube or deployment of business intelligence applications, requires an enterprise reporting strategy to effectively utilize the technology and realize value from the investment.

Unlike the random inspirations of Sarah Winchester to build upon her house, an enterprise reporting strategy or Information Access Road Map (IAR)is a plan to create or evolve an organization’s reporting and often disparate, approaches into a comprehensive means of providing individuals within an organization the information that they need for reporting, analysis and decision-making purposes. An IAR is a strategy whereby the business requirement for information is documented along with the existing reporting environment and a high-level plan to develop the technical reporting architecture to support the business requirements and desired information delivery mechanisms.  An IAR is a document that contains several components such as subject matter assessment, technical and information assessment, subject matter prioritization, information consumer classification, IT readiness assessment and summary.

Subject Matter Assessment

While each group within an organization has its own unique information needs, there are subject matters that one or many groups need to access. For example, sales order information in Figure 1 is accessed by the sales group to understand revenue generated by the group, geographic region, customer and sales representative. The operations group needs to understand which products are selling and to keep production ahead of orders. The finance group records the revenue from the sales orders and the human resources group utilizes sales information by sales representatives to evaluate performance and calculate/pay commissions.  Another example is inventory information, which is only accessed by a few groups. In Figure 1, the sales group needs to understand which products are available to sell while the operations and finance groups keep track of the inventory on hand and the corresponding value.


Figure 1: Accessibility of Subject Matter Information

Defining the subject matters within an organization as well as which groups utilized the information aids in the valuation of the information to the organization. By understanding what information is needed by the various groups and the impact of that information on the operations of the organizations, relative valuations can be determined by subject area.

Technical and Information Assessment

An assessment is made of the current state of the organization’s information systems hardware and software. In addition, information by subject area is examined to determine the availability and quality. This assessment is the basis for understanding where the organization is currently at and what needs to be done in order to create or evolve its reporting environment to meet the needs of its individuals.

Subject Matter Prioritization

Based upon the business requirements for information, the assessment of information and the technical environment, subject matters can be categorized into the priority levels shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Prioritization of Subject Matter

Each of these categories addresses the value of the information to the organization and the availability/quality of that information. A subject matter is assigned a high priority if it has a significant impact to the organization if individuals could have access to it for reporting, analysis and decision-making purposes. The other component that is also evaluated is the availability and quality of the subject matter information. A high availability/quality priority level indicates that the subject matter information is captured and stored electronically within the organization’s information systems and the quality of the data is high. By assigning subject matters to priority levels based upon the value/availability/quality criteria, the ordering of subject matters to be addressed by the information access road map is methodically defined.

Information Consumer Classifications

Each individual’s information requirements are typically correlated to his/her role within the organization. The information requirements of a senior executive are different from a business analyst working in the sales group of an organization. Typically, senior executives do not have the time to perform research on transactions. Conversely, a business analyst must have that ability to obtain and analyze transactional data. In addition, other factors need to be considered for each individual such as the content of the data that they need to access, the level of detail (e.g., summarized or detailed transactions) and the manner in which the data is presented. Considering these requirements, most information consumers can be classified in one of the following four categories:

Information Viewers. This group is typically comprised of executives and senior managers who need information that is summarized and has been defined for them. They need the ability to view static information online and/or print to a local printer.

Structured Query Users. This group consists of managers and supervisors who require the next level of detail from the information that is provided to information viewers. In addition to the privileges of an information viewer, structured query users have the ability to refresh report information and the ability to enter desired information parameters for the purposes of performing high-level research and analysis.

Data Manipulators. Individuals who are typically in this group are managers, supervisors and analysts who need to perform detailed research and analysis, which requires access to transaction data. In addition to the privileges of a structured query user, data manipulators have the ability to develop their own ad hoc queries and perform OLAP analysis.

Ad Hoc Query Developers. Individuals in this category are those who have a strong understanding of both the business and technology to access and analyze transactional data for analysis purposes. They have full privileges to explore and analyze the data with the BI applications available to them.

The number of individuals within an organization that are assigned to one of these categories and the corresponding data access requirements of that category aid in determining the business intelligence application functionality that is needed and the number of licenses.

IT Readiness Assessment

Another component of an information access road map is the assessment of the organization’s information technology group to support the desired reporting environment. In this assessment, several parts are examined such as help desk support, organizational structure, change control procedures, development and production standards, and in-house knowledge of the software applications that will be used to develop and maintain the reporting environment. From the IT readiness assessment, those areas that require improvement will have to be addressed prior to the development of the reporting solution for the first subject matter.

Information Access Road Map Summary

The information access road map summary contains recommendations, a high-level timeline, the order of each subject matter that will be developed and the associated dependencies so that there is an action plan to create or evolve the organization’s reporting environment.

Summary

Creating an enterprise reporting environment is a challenging task that cannot be approached in a manner similar to the Winchester Mystery House. Financial and human resources are precious assets of an organization that must be utilized in a manner that is most beneficial to it. In addition, the mess that is created by haphazardly implementing technology without an enterprise perspective is difficult to undo or salvage. An information access road map is the “blueprint” that provides individuals the direction, priorities, tasks, timeline, dependencies and lists of resources that they need to develop an enterprise reporting environment that moves the organization from where it is to where it wants to be.


Figure 3: Create an Enterprise Reporting Environment

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