Analysis is overrated. Let me clarify. There are two major components of business intelligence (BI): reporting and analysis. Reporting is a category of software that allows you to ask a common question and receive a formatted result in the form of a document. Typically, someone builds a report when it represents a question that will be repeatedly asked on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The report helps monitor the status of critical business activities such as sales, revenue, inventory, etc. Very often, an IT professional will create a report that can be run on demand by one or more people or scheduled and distributed to many people by email.

Analysis is not too different from reporting in that it provides an answer to a question. Analysis, however, normally represents uncommon questions - questions that are thought about on an impromptu or ad hoc basis. When a question is novel and rarely posed, chances are that no report exists that answers it. As a result, business intelligence tools - often called ad hoc query tools or online analytical processing (OLAP) tools - are provided to the user to ask the question without the help of an IT professional. These tools allow information workers to look at data in different ways by re-aggregating it in various groups, filtering it, applying new calculations or even re-sorting it.

A report is the answer to a common question that is asked over and over, such as "What was my profit and loss for last month?" and analysis answers a unique question such as, "What was sold in Los Angeles on Tuesday of last week if I consider only perishable products that were sold after 12:00 p.m.?"

Now back to my original statement. Analysis is overrated does not mean that analysis isn't important - just that it is not necessarily essential for a large number of users, and the amount of analysis that happens should constantly be shrinking. In a mature business, reports will eventually contain 90 percent or more of the information needed by workers on a daily basis. Analysis that is considered important should become a standardized report as quickly as possible. When analysis becomes a report, its content is available to more, and less technical information workers who have neither the time or experience to use a BI tool to create new information from scratch.

Analysis is the minor leagues and reports are the major leagues. Analysis is constantly striving for relevance and the opportunity to be promoted to report status.

Good business intelligence software contains usage-monitoring tools that keep track of what users are doing. These monitoring tools will tell you when multiple users are asking similar ad hoc questions. As an administrator of information architecture, when you see the coincidence of two unrelated users asking similar questions using ad hoc tools, for example, the lightbulb should go on. It is time to consider promoting that question to report status.

Another important reason for this "graduation" process to occur is the lack of confidence in the ad hoc question. When an IT professional familiar with databases, SQL and reporting tools builds a report and that report is involved in the quality assurance tests of the IT department, there is a certain amount of credibility associated with the information it contains. On the other hand, when a randomly asked question is posed by a less technical user employing a business intelligence tool (where the process for creating the information is unknown) there is potential for error. When information is created through a formal process such as a report, credibility is born. Maybe this situation is unfortunate and unfounded, but it happens to be the case.

So "analysis" is just an overrated minor-leaguer striving to be recognized - and when it is, it will be forever be recognized for its efforts when it is promoted to a "report."

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