As a new generation of business professionals embraces a new generation of technology, the line between people and their tools begins to blur. This shift comes as organizations become flatter and leaner and roles,  context and responsibilities become intertwined. These changes have introduced faster and easier ways to bring information to users, in a context that makes it quicker to collaborate, assess and act. Today we see this in the prominent buying patterns for business intelligence and analytics software and an increased focus on the user experience. Almost two-thirds (63%) of participants in our benchmark research on next-generation business intelligence say that usability is the top purchase consideration for business intelligence software. In fact, usability is the driving factor in evaluating and selecting technology across all application and technology areas, according to our benchmark research.

In selecting and using technology, personas (that is, an idealized cohort of users) are particularly important, as they help business and IT assess where software will be used in the organization and define the role, responsibility and competency of users and the context of what they need and why. At the same time, personas help software companies understand the attitudinal, behavioral and demographic profile of target individuals and the specific experience that is not just attractive but essential to those users. For example, the mobile and collaborative intelligence capabilities needed by a field executive logging in from a tablet at a customer meeting are quite different from the analytic capabilities needed by an analyst trying to understand the causes of high customer churn rates and how to change that trend with a targeted marketing campaign.

Understanding this context-driven user experience is the first step toward defining the personas found in today’s range of analytics users. The key is to make the personas simple to understand but comprehensive enough to cover the diversity of needs for business analytic types within the organization. To help organizations be more effective in their analytic process and engagement of their resources and time, we recommend the following five analytical personas: (Note that in my years of segmentation work, I’ve found that the most important aspects are the number of segments and the names of those segments. To this end, I have chosen a simple number, five, and the most intuitive names I could find to represent each persona.)

Information Consumer: This persona is not technologically savvy and may even feel intimidated by technology. Information must be provided in a user-friendly fashion to minimize frustration. These users may rely on one or two tools that they use just well enough to do their jobs, which typically involves consuming information in presentations, reports, dashboards or other forms that are easy to read and interpret. They are oriented more to language than to numbers and in most cases would rather read or listen to information about the business. They can write a pertinent memo or email, make a convincing sales pitch or devise a brilliant strategy. Their typical role within the organization varies, but among this group is the high-ranking executive, including the CEO, for whom information is prepared. In the lines of business, this consumer may be a call center agent, a sales manager or a field service worker. In fact, in many companies, the information consumer makes up the majority of the organization. The information consumer usually can read Excel and PowerPoint documents but rarely works within them. This persona feels empowered by consumer-grade applications such as Google, Yelp and Facebook.

Knowledge Worker: Knowledge workers are business, technologically and data savvy and have domain knowledge. They interpret data in functional ways. These workers understand descriptive data but are not likely to take on data integration tasks or interpret advanced statistics (as in a regression analysis). In terms of tools, they can make sense of spreadsheets and with minimal training use the output of tools like business intelligence systems, pivot tables and visual discovery tools. They also actively participate in providing feedback and input to planning and business performance software. Typically, these individuals are over their heads when they are asked to develop a pivot table or structure multi-dimensional data. In some instances, however, new discovery tools allow them to move beyond such limitations. The knowledge worker persona includes but is not limited to technology savvy executives, line of business managers to directors, domain experts and operations managers. Since these workers focus on decision-making and business outcomes, analytics is an important part of their overall workflow but targeted at specific tasks. For analytical tools this role may use applications with embedded analytics, analytic discovery and modeling approaches. Visual discovery tools and in many instances user friendly SaaS applications are empowering the knowledge worker to be more analytically driven without IT involvement.

Analyst: Well versed in data, this persona often knows business intelligence and analytics tools that pertain to the position and applies analytics to analyze various aspects of the business. These users are familiar with applications and systems and know how to retrieve and assemble data from them in many forms. They can also perform a range of data blending and data preparation tasks, and create dashboards and data visualizations along with pivot tables with minimal or no training. They can interpret many types of data, including correlation and in some cases regression. The analyst’s role involves modeling and analytics either within specific analytic software or within software used for business planning and enterprise performance management. More senior analysts focus on more advanced analytics, such as predictive analytics and data mining, to understand current patterns data and predict future outcomes. These analysts might be called a split persona in terms of where their skills and roles are deployed in the organization. They may reside in IT, but a lot more are found on the business side, as they are accountable for analytics tied to the outcomes of the analytics. Analysts on the business side may not be expert in SQL or computer programming but may be adept with languages such as R or SAS. Those on the IT side are more familiar with SQL and the building of data models used in databases. With respect to data preparation, the IT organization looks at integration through the lens of ETL and associated tool sets, whereas the business side looks at it from a data-merge perspective and the creation of analytical data sets in places like spreadsheets.

The roles that represent this persona often are explicitly called analysts with a prefix that in most cases is representative of the department they work from, such as finance, marketing, sales or operations but could have prefixes like corporate, customer, operational or other cross-departmental responsibilities. The analytical tools they use almost always include the spreadsheet, as well as complementary business intelligence tools and a range of analytical tools like visual discovery and in some cases more advanced predictive analytics and statistical software. Visual discovery and commodity modeling approaches are empowering some analyst workers to move upstream from a role of data monger to a more interpretive decision support position. For those already familiar with advanced modeling, today’s big data environments, including new sources of information and modern technology, are providing the ability to build much more robust models and solve an entirely new class of business problems.

Publisher: Skilled in data and analytics, the publisher typically knows how to configure and operate business intelligence tools and publish information from them in dashboards or reports. They are typically skilled in the basics of spreadsheets and publishing information to Microsoft Word or PowerPoint tools. These users not only can interpret many types of analytics but can also build and validate the data for their organizations. Similar to the analyst, the publisher may be considered a split persona, as these individuals may be in a business unit or IT. The IT-based publisher is more familiar with the business intelligence processes and knows the data sources and how to get to data from the data warehouse or even big data sources. They may have basic configuration and scripting skills that enable them to produce outputs in several ways. They may also have basic SQL and relational data modeling skills that help them identify what can be published and determine how data can be combined through the BI tool or databases. The titles related to publisher may include business intelligence manager, data analyst, or manager or director of data or information management. The common tools used by the publisher include business intelligence authoring tools, various visualization and analytic tools, and office productivity tools like Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat.

Data Geek: A data geek, data analyst or potentially as sophisticated as a data scientist has expert data management skills, has an interdisciplinary approach to data that melds the split personas discussed at the analyst and senior analyst levels. The primary difference between the data geek and the analyst is that the latter usually focuses on either the IT side or the business side. A senior analyst with a Ph.D. in computer science understands relational data models and programming languages but may not understand advanced statistical models and statistical programming languages. Similarly, a Ph.D. in statistics understands advanced predictive models and associated tools but may not be prepared to write computer code. The data scientist not only understands both advanced statistics and modeling but enough about computer programming and systems along with domain knowledge. The titles for this role vary but include chief analytics officer, enterprise data architect, data analyst, head of information science and even data scientist.

To align analytics and the associated software to individuals in the organization, businesses should use personas to best identify who needs what set of capabilities to be effective. Organizations should also assess competency levels in their personas to avoid adopting software that is too complicated or difficult to use. In some cases you will have individuals that can perform multiple personas. Instead of wasting time, resources and financial capital, look to define what is needed and where training is needed to ensure business and IT work collaboratively in business analytics. While some business analytics software is getting easier to use, many of the offerings are still difficult to use because they are still being designed for IT or more sophisticated analysts. While these individuals are an important group, they represent only a small portion of the users who need analytic business tools.

The next generation of business intelligence and business analytics will in part address the need to more easily consume information through smartphones and tablets but will not overcome one of the biggest barriers to big data analytics: the skills gap. Our benchmark research on big data shows staffing (79%) and training (77%) are the two biggest challenges organizations face in efforts to take advantage of big data through analytics. In addition, a language barrier still exists in some organizations, where IT speaks in terms of TCO and cost of ownership and efficiency while the business speaks in terms of effectiveness and outcomes or time to value, which I have written about previously. While all of these goals are important, the organization needs to cater to the metrics that are needed by its various personas. Such understanding starts with better defining the different personas and building more effective communication among the groups to ensure that they work together more collaboratively to achieve their respective goals and get the most value from business analytics.

This blog was originally published on Ventana Research. Published with permission.