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Paul Schuliger, Business Intelligence Consultant, Key2 Consulting
By: Paul Schuliger
 
 
Happy New Year to you! And welcome back to the working world. We hope that you are feeling reinvigorated after some much-needed rest and relaxation.

Making resolutions at the start of a New Year is a tradition that spans many cultures. These resolutions – defined as “firm decisions to do or not do something” – are often personal goals: lose some weight, read more books, go on a great vacation, find a new job, etc. However, many “resolutionists” often lose steam and don’t keep up with their New Year’s resolutions (despite great intentions!) as the daily reality of work and other responsibilities creep in.

In my role as a business intelligence consultant, there are several resolutions (call them best practices) that I remind myself of every year, and consistently throughout the year, so that I don’t lose steam in the midst of continual project milestones and implementation deadlines. They are simply too important to ignore.

Here a few resolutions from myself and my fellow Key2 consultants that we think are crucial to our BI practice. We hope they’ll be useful to you too!
 

Resolution #1 – Make Communication Inclusive and Seamless for Customers

We resolve to always make communication inclusive and seamless for our customers.

For example, we currently have a project that is going to require us to be able to send important messages and updates to all of our users. Our goal is to make sure the process is quick and doesn’t require much interaction from the end user.

To do this, we are working on a system feature that will deliver an important message to the customer upon accessing the system. While this will not be useful in the case of a complete system failure, it will be the most effective solution in most of our situations that require notifications.

This method will hopefully prove to be a win-win for our customers and our Key2 team. It will benefit our customers by keeping them up to date with any issues that they may otherwise think is only affecting them. And it will benefit our Key2 team by issuing a single message to everyone, rather than spending time conveying the message to each user that notifies us of being affected.

Note: Communication is one crucial part of being a great business intelligence consultant. Check out another one of our blogs for a few more skills that will help you be a better BI consultant.
 

Resolution #2 – Maintain and Use A Test Environment to Determine the Effect of All System Changes

We resolve to maintain and use our test environment to determine the effect of all system changes.

Keeping a test system in a state that mirrors your production system can be a burden sometimes. However, first testing major changes in a non-production environment can save you a lot of work and really build trust with your customers!

We recently upgraded a major version of a reporting tool for a client and went over all documentation provided by the product team on the version upgrade. It didn’t reveal any concerns, but we decided to do this in our test environment first, just to be sure.

While testing, we found a major, undocumented change that required additional preparation on the customer’s client machine. This preparation took several weeks and would have left the customers dead in the water if the change was pushed out to production without proper testing.

That said, keeping the test environment up-to-date with our production environment is not something that happens 100% percent of the time. Therefore, we did have to do some preliminary work to get everything synced up. However, as the previous scenario demonstrates, keeping a test environment up-to-date is well worth the effort!

Note: See our blog on Software Development Environments for more detail.
 

Resolution #3 – Ensure That Reporting Requirements Come from the End-User

We resolve to ensure that the final reporting requirements either come from the end-user or are reviewed and approved by the end-user.

This is one situation that is easy to forget in the middle of our fast-paced world that is often dictated by aggressive deadlines. We – the BI consultants – spend a lot of time working on reports and often believe that we – or our IT cohorts – know what the business (end-users) really are looking for, without directly asking them. Yes, this sounds fundamental, but in the heat and stress of projects it can be easy to forget.

You will know that this has happened when you present your incredible reporting application to your end-user and they look at you as if you have two heads. Trust us, this is NOT how you want your customer to be looking at you!

So, be sure to interview the end-user early on in your project and understand their reporting requirements. In the event that the end-user is unable to provide you with requirements, then take the time to involve them in the requirements creation. It may take several conversations, but you will eventually get to a point where the end-user has agreed with the requirements. This will provide you with much better results than building what you think – or what the IT group thinks – the end-user needs.

You’ve been warned; don’t let this happen to you!
 

Resolution #4 – Never Allow Users Direct Access to Warehouse Tables

We resolve to never, ever, ever, ever, ever (…get the point) allow the end-users to directly access
data warehouse tables!

Many of you are now nodding your head in one hundred percent agreement with me, and at the same time wondering why in the world this would be allowed anywhere. Well, it is happening out there. And regardless of the excuses that we hear, it absolutely should not be happening.

In a dimensional data warehouse, there are records that end up in the dimensions and fact tables that should NOT be known by the end-users. Maybe the records are historical and would cause confusion if seen in reports. Maybe the records are required for something in the ETL but are not intended for reporting. Or, maybe there are ETL tables used in the ETL pipeline that should never see the light of day in reporting because there are several machinations going on in the table that do not make sense without the proper context to the table.

We recommend always having a SQL semantic layer placed onto your data warehouse built specifically for end-users to use at all times. This will provide consistency to all reporting efforts throughout the corporation. Also, this SQL semantic layer provides IT a way to “hide” those tables that are not necessary for reporting and those records that should be filtered out for reporting.

We recommend having this SQL semantic layer even if your business intelligence tool provides you with a semantic layer. Since most corporations have more than one BI tool, this provides the BI environment with what we hope is consistent and quality results.
 

Conclusion

As you head into a New Year of business intelligence projects with existing and new clients, take a few minutes to review your work – both personally and as a corporation. Are you approaching the client the way you should? Is your team properly working together? Or, is there something technically that needs to be re-thought or re-worked? Anything else need to be addressed?

Now is the perfect time to make an adjustment so that this year’s work can become a best practice on your current project and all future projects.

May all of your resolutions (best practices) provide you with success in all of your BI endeavors this year!
From everyone at Key2, we wish you a Happy New Year!
 
 

Questions?

Thanks for reading! We hope you found this blog post to be useful. Do let us know if you have any questions or topic ideas related to BI, analytics, the cloud, machine learning, SQL Server, (Star Wars), or anything else of the like that you’d like us to write about. Simply leave us a comment below, and we’ll see what we can do!
 
 

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Key2 Consulting is a data warehousing and business intelligence company located in Atlanta, Georgia. We create and deliver custom data warehouse solutions, business intelligence solutions, and custom applications. 

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