MyData: A paradigm shift?

Many times throughout my career I've tried to communicate to executives that in my humble opinion (me, humble?) there are three different types of "users" for reporting systems and reports.
These "types" are:
  • Dashboard Lovers
  • "Canned Reports" Lovers
  • "I'll build it myself" Lovers

    Here's a breakdown from my view for each of the three types:

    Type 1: Dashboard lovers
    There are tons of people out there who salivate when they see dashboards. Most of us love them and in fact they are extremely useful. Google does a fantastic job with their Google Finance Dashboard, here's a quick picture of my Alma-Mata's Google Finance page which can be found at:

    Most dashboard implementations I've seen don't let you drill down into the graphs but good ones do. An example, if you see a "spike" in a line graph you could click on that "spike" and review the data records which support that spike in activity. If your out there and going to build a dashboard, you have to keep in mind that if you build it without the drill down capabilities you've only done half the job.

    Many times you'll hear folks talk about "Executive Dashboards". These dashboards are supposed to give folks a "50,000 foot" view of an organization as a whole to allow them to see overall performance and trending.

    A really great resource to poke around at for Dashboard Knowledge is at a site called "Juice Analytics". Juice puts out lots of great posts and comments about dashboards and here's a link to a good one.

    "Canned Reports" Lovers
    There are plenty of business people in this world who want nothing more then "canned reports" delivered to their inbox on a regular basis. Imagine if you will that you were a branch manager of a sales organization who had to spend each and every week navigating through management of your inside and outside sales teams and their trials and tribulations with their customers. I've seen lots of folks like these "arrive early" on any typical Monday morning to review the "results" of their work the previous week or month. They typically have been receiving reports like these for a long-long time and if you changed the reports in any way, shape or form you'd hear about it. These folks live and breath by these reports, trust me, do yourself a favor and understand that these are the folks that you do not want to mess with. They are very overworked, probably underpaid and unless you can figure out a way to REALLY reduce the amount of work they are doing or you can REALLY increase their revenue or REALLY reduce their costs, please don't mess with their reports!

    "I'll build it myself" Lovers
    For many reasons such as more powerful desktops, people becoming more "desktop application savvy" as well as costs of building reporting systems skyrocketing, we started to see a shift of people from one of the above types of people to this third type. These "give me MyData" folks want to be able to download to their desktops all of the data they need to build their own "canned reports" or "dashboards". Historically we always had people out there who pulled down data from source systems and build little bitty MSExcel documents and many of them went berserk and built out entire databases on MSAccess and other crazy desktop tools. There's a ton of terms for these types of systems and most IT folks would rather go to the dentist and get their teeth pulled out then to recognize that these crazy little systems many times do in fact add value to organizations.

    So, where am I heading with this you might ask and what does this have to do with any sort of corporate culture change or paradigm shift? I believe we're at a point were organizations are starting to take a better look at this third type of user. In particular I'm thinking about these "give me my data" websites such as

    Across the pond we've got Sir Tim Berners Lee creating an equivalent of Obama's baby called, well,

    A paradigm shift? I think so due to two things we haven't seen all too often in industry and or government. The first change here is that these efforts are making an attempt at being open and honest here and showing data in "raw" format. The fact that on's homepage there is an image that says "raw data catalog" is completely astounding to me. Now granted each of the data sets available may or may not have significant data quality issues. The second change is that these efforts are not making the reports for you, they are giving you the data for you to build your dashboards or canned reports.

    There are other examples of this which might drive this home for "more corporate" type of folks out there. There are features within which allow you to download your data to build out your favorite reporting solution. I'd anticipate that most other SaaS applications out there as well as other types of applications starting to be more "data download" friendly in future releases. In doing so organizations should really think through such things as security concerns as well as building in some sort of workflow or feedback process so folks who use this data can in fact report back to the data providers about data quality issues or concerns. Thought should also be put into making sure people understand the content so that when they go and build their dashboards and canned reports they are not misrepresenting what really happened. There's probably dozens of other considerations which should be thought about but I think you'll get the picture.

    We'll see what happens with these websites and types of users. Feel free to let me know if you've come across any other "types" of reporting users as well as any examples of successful implementations of the MyData concept.

    Until next time...Rich
  • Comments

    Phil Wright said…
    Great post.

    There is certainly a shift occurring, and this shift is empowering non-technical users to access the information they require, in the format they desire. Users are much more keen to get hands on with the data, slicing and dicing as they wish. Perhaps this comes from dissatisfaction with previous information supply, either with not getting the exact information they're after, or in an inconvenient format, or non-timely delivery.

    There are a number of SaaS BI tools, such as GoodData, which I believe integrates directly with SalesForce. These kind of tools allow users to build reports/dashboards themselves with little/no technical ability.

    With tools such as the above, I think that the point you make around ensuring users understand the content, so that they represent data in the correct context is extremely important.


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