Q: Are Web-based analytics solutions actually useful for many organizations? Should they come with a health warning about encouraging management and other staff who don't understand the data to "play around" believing they now have the tools to make decisions without having to consult the experts (which they would rather not do)? In short, unless you have a large or spatially distributed team of analysts/researchers, are these solutions not just a lot of marketing hype offering tools that are more suitable for the desktop? Or, through comprehensive and understandable metadata and effective training programs, can non-experts reach a point of being trusted data users?

Sid Adelman's Answer:These solutions are not just a marketing hype, but you need to be careful not to let the vendors exaggerate their capabilities and not all users are equipped to perform real analysis. Mark Twain wrote "Don't try to teach a pig to sing. You'll waste your time and annoy the pig." Metadata and training are very important but target the right users.

Adrienne Tannenbaum's Answer:

I have worked with a substantial amount of "external" data, purchased by clients for very large amounts of money. Most, if not all of the data represents a "perspective." Some vendors are clear about this in that they supply substantial metadata - both for the data grouping as a whole and for each individual element that is subscribed to. Other purchased data, however, is not as clearly documented and I have seen many clients get themselves into trouble by assuming a "perspective" (for example, assuming the purchased data is provided in U.S. dollars). So, the issue is not really who plays around, but what they are playing around with and whether or not they understand the details of their fun.

If the concern is also about what is done with this well documented data, what is typically done is an IT creation of standard reports or decisions to be used by each player. When the business users develop their own decision reports they then realize and are clearly aware that their fun is not guaranteed corporate fun.

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