Users are playing an increasing role in determining the direction and usage of technology within their organizations. The development of business intelligence (BI) applications has fostered the change in users’ roles in technology by providing them with the ability to access information that was previously held and controlled by the information systems group. In addition, as users have become more technology savvy, they are voicing their opinions on how information is reported and what information they want to see. Understanding their information requirements is critical to a successful implementation of BI applications to meet the enterprise query and reporting needs.

Each user’s information requirements are typically correlated with his/her role within the organization. The information requirements of a chief financial officer (CFO) are different from a business analyst working in the sales group of an organization. Typically, a CFO does not have the time to perform research on transactions. Conversely, the business analyst must have that ability to obtain and analyze transactional data. In addition, other factors need to be considered for each user 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 users can be classified in one of the four categories shown in Figure 1.

User Category

Type of User

Information Needs and Privileges

Viewers
  • Executives
  • Managers
Information is summarized and has been defined for them. Users have the ability to view static information online and/or print to a local printer.
Casual Users
  • Managers
  • Supervisors
Casual users require the next level of detail from the information that is provided to viewers. In addition to the privileges of a viewer, casual 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.
Functional Users
  • Managers
  • Supervisors
  • Analysts
Functional users need to perform detailed research and analysis, which requires access to transactional data. In addition to the privileges of a casual user, functional users have the ability to develop their own ad hoc queries and perform OLAP analysis.
Super Users
  • Analysts
Super users have a strong understanding of both the business and technology to access and analyze transactional data. They have full privileges to explore and analyze the data with the BI applications available to them.

With the information systems that most organizations have implemented, vast amounts of data are being collected and processed by these systems. In order for users, and ultimately the organization, to thoroughly utilize the information contained within these systems, users must have access to this data. Accessing information from these systems can be achieved by one or several different strategies. Each strategy by which a user can obtain the desired information for decision-making purposes has a specific purpose, usage and issues. Figure 2 summarizes the different aspects of each information access strategy.

Standard Reports – Hard Copy

Purpose: To provide users with a physical document containing information that they requested or need.

Usage: Reports where a physical copy is required.

Issues: Must be developed or enhanced by a programmer, and physical copies must be delivered to users.

Examples: Payroll registers, purchase order forms, employee W-2 forms.

Standard Reports – Electronic

Purpose: To provide users with an electronic document containing information they request or need.

Usage: Reports that require infrequent structural changes and are easily disseminated through e- mail or Web viewing.

Issues: Must be developed or enhanced by a programmer.

Examples: P&L reports, expense variance reports, manufacturing reports.

Structured Queries

Purpose: To provide users with the ability to select parameters for a given query, which will generate a document containing the information that they have requested.

Usage: Research and analysis within predefined report structure.

Issues: Must be developed or enhanced by a programmer.

Examples: Revenue by specified sales representative, Web search engines.

Ad Hoc Queries

Purpose: To provide users with the ability to generate any query they wish.

Usage: Research, analysis and reporting.

Issues: Users may not know what they want and must be trained on the BI application which must be configured correctly.

Examples: Listing of the top-selling products by customer, listing of products sold by sales representative.

OLAP Analysis

Purpose: To provide users with the ability to perform summary, detailed or trend analysis on the data they requested.

Usage: Research and analysis.

Issues: Users may not know what they want and must be trained on the BI application which must be configured correctly.

Examples: Sales analysis by geographic region, period and product, drill-down analysis of income statement line items.

Exception-Based Reporting

Purpose: To alert users to predefined conditions or events that have occurred.

Usage: Notification without the need to perform detailed analysis.

Issues: Predefined conditions or events must be examined periodically to determine if they still hold true.

Examples: Alert if inventory levels fall below a specified threshold, cash management alerts, customer satisfaction alerts.

Data Mining

Purpose: To provide users with the ability to discover hidden trends within their data.

Usage: Research and analysis of hidden trends within the data.

Issues: Interpretation of the results must be validated. Population or characteristics of the data influence the results of the data mining exercise.

Examples: Identifying characteristics of customers to cross-sell services or products. Identifying characteristics of possible fraudulent credit card transactions.

Depending on the user’s information requirements and sophistication level, a variety of information access strategies are essential. Figure 3 provides a summary of users by category and the corresponding information access strategies that they may use

A combination of different information access strategies will satisfy the needs of all users within an organization. Understanding who your users are, what information they need, the level of detail and the different information access strategies that are available will provide you with a foundation for addressing enterprise query and reporting. The success and long-term viability of an organization rests with its users’ ability to access information for decision making.

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