Tag Archives: Business Analysis

Reengineered Processes Need Business-Defined Data

“Business process reengineering is the act of recreating a core business process with the goal of improving product output, quality, or reducing costs.”* Recently I’ve perused articles on business process reengineering and have been surprised to find that they share a lack of emphasis on data definition.

By establishing a shared business vocabulary, identifying and describing business-critical entities and events, and applying the defined entities and events in process and system design, BPR teams can ensure an efficient redesigned process that works smoothly from end to end.

In spite of data concerns making up two of the seven key BPR principles (“Merging data collection and processing units” and “Shared databases to interconnect dispersed departments”), articles on the topic tend to lump these concerns into general Information Technology topics, without acknowledging the need for business driven data definition and management. For example, this post stresses the need for “more sources of data and enhanced connectedness to information”. This one recounts a famous Ford BPR example where a new database was central to the solution. Many, like this one, cite “shared databases” as a core principle. However, none details the business leadership and participation necessary to define a common data foundation across a reengineered business process. Continue reading

Data Architecture for Improved Dashboard Performance

Sometimes success seems like a data analytics team’s worst enemy. A few successful visualizations packaged up into a dashboard by a small skunkworks team can generate interest such that a year later the team has published scores of mission critical dashboards. As their use spreads throughout the organization, and as features expand to meet the needs of an expanding user base, the dashboards can slow down and data refreshes fail as they exceed database and  analytics tool time and resource limits.

There are steps teams can take to deal with such slowdowns. Analytics tool vendors typically offer efficiency guides, like this one, that help resolve dashboard response time issues. A frequent recommendation is for the dashboard to use summary tables rather than full detail, reducing the amount of data that the dashboard has to parse as the user waits for a viz to render.*

Summary tables also help resolve data refresh timeouts, but their long term success for the team depends on the foundation on which they are built and how they are organized. The most obvious approach is to build custom summaries serving each dashboard. While report-specific tables stand out as a quick win, analysis shows they are a suboptimal solution because they tend to (1) reduce ability to respond to requirements evolution, and (2) make metrics in different dashboards less consistent. Continue reading

How to be a good client

I recently listened to Brian O’Neill’s excellent interview with Tom Davenport, headlined “Why on a scale of 1-10, the field of analytics has only gone from a one to about a two in ten years time.”

The conversation covered a lot of ground as Mr O’Neill and Mr Davenport explored the reasons why. Highlights included general lack of technical literacy and lack of an organizational data driven culture. But to their credit, they took responsibility on behalf of analytics professionals, emphasizing how we in the field could change in order to make more analytics efforts successful. Rather than focusing on providing technology-centered solutions, they recommended that data and AI professionals seek first to understand and empathize with their clients or internal customers, enabling data and AI pros to develop more effective analytics capabilities in light of that understanding.

I agree that analytics professionals can improve their game. However, as a former consultant who’s switched over to the client side, I think there’s room for improvement all around. To me, clients who work proactively to prepare for an analytics project position themselves for better outcomes. Continue reading

Data Governance Meets Procurement

Why pay good money for bad data?

Of course no one would do that on purpose, but I as a consultant over many years I’ve often seen it. A vendor fulfills a contract to the letter, which unfortunately allows them to deliver required reports in various, sometimes changing, formats with suspect data quality. The customer company absorbs these costs, leaning on the data analyst to update PowerPoint decks on schedule before the next monthly management meeting in spite of the extra programming work.

These contracts have been for various goods and services, but almost every business contract today is also a contract for data. If a regional gas company hires a vendor to inspect residential lines, then I suspect it wants reports showing inspections conducted and results; a healthcare firm that sends nurses on house calls needs data detailing call schedules and results; and so on.

Companies that supply goods or provide services often don’t feature data management as a core competency, and the quality of their reporting often doesn’t match the quality of their goods or services. Someone in the customer organization has to code around every addition or omission of an expected Excel column, every “N/A” in a numeric field, and every unexpected change from imperial to metric units. Continue reading

Anonymize Data for Better Executive Analytics

Reading articles about data anonymization makes it clear that it is not an entirely effective security measure (here and here), but still part of a robust security capability, and required if your organization is affected by GDPR. (I use “anonymization” as a general term encompassing techniques that de-identify personal data within a given data set.)

But there’s a positive side of anonymized data that hasn’t received much press. Providing anonymous data to senior managers who don’t need access to personal data can encourage them to take a broader perspective, and thereby bring new energy to fact-based senior planning and analysis. Continue reading

Meaningful Requirements Start Successful Data Projects

To me, development projects fail or succeed in the first few weeks. Once a project starts off in the wrong direction, momentum and expectations tend to prevent a return to the proper path. With today’s wealth of database options each addressing exciting new possibilities, the right choice for the application’s data foundation plays a large part in steering a project to success.

At this year’s Enterprise Data World conference, William Brooks showed the relations among different data modeling approaches, in effect detailing how to derive nine different model types from a detailed conceptual entity relationship model. Mr Brooks’ presentation hinted at a way to correctly frame up your data direction early on in a project, setting the stage for success.

According to his presentation, called “Symmetry in Modeling Approaches“, the different model types — relational, graph, dimensional, JSON, XML, and so on — all represent different perspectives on the same data relationships. Each suits a different application, like dimensional for reporting applications, data vault for data warehouses, graph databases for multi-layered search, and so on. However, if properly constructed they all map back in predictable and specific ways to a normalized entity-relationship model.

I and others write that ER modeling should be integral to requirements definition, but Mr. Brooks’ presentation implies that ER modeling can also serve as the basis for application architecture as well. Continue reading

The PDDQ Framework: Lean Data Quality for Patient Records

For most of us it may have slipped under the radar, but in December a groundbreaking Patient Demographic Data Quality framework was jointly released by a US government agency and the CMMI Institute.

In response to findings that many “safety-related events were caused by or related to incorrect patient identification”, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) worked with CMMI to develop the PDDQ Framework in order help organizations implement effective, sustainable data management practices around patient data management. 

Groundbreaking? Yes. As a lean framework appropriate for small business the PDDQ shows how you can rightsize the Data Management Maturity Model to match your situation. That it is freely available demonstrates CMMI’s commitment to improving data quality in healthcare. Continue reading

The Practical Metadata Business Case

Even now the business case for a metadata tool seems unclear and difficult to quantify, but it isn’t impossible.

We in the data management business tend to devalue solutions that don’t clearly derive from a coherent top-level view. We seek applications defined from an enterprise architecture, database designs from an enterprise data model, and data elements consistent with the enterprise business glossary.

However, sometimes tactical gains make sense even when the big picture is missing, and tactical successes of metadata for analytics teams can raise consciousness that helps set the stage for evolving data management improvements. Continue reading

Analytics Requirements: Avoid a Y2.xK Crisis

Even though it happens annually, teams building new visualizations often forget to think about the effects of turning over from one year to another.

In today’s fast paced, Agile world, requirements for even the most critical dashboards and visualizations tend to evolve, and development often proceeds iteratively from a scratchpad sketch through successively more detailed versions to release of a “1.0” production version. Organized analytics teams evolve dashboards within a process framework that include checkpoints ensuring standards are met for security, reliability, usability, and so on.

A reporting team can build a revolutionary analytics capability enabling unprecedented visibility into operations, and then, if year turnover isn’t included in requirements, experience embarrassing errors and usability challenges in the January after initial deployment. In effect, the system experiences its own Y2.xK crisis, not too different from the expected Y2K crisis 16 years ago. Continue reading

Assumptions: A Key to Technical Leadership

DonkeyThere’s an unfortunate and rather rude saying about assumptions that I’ve found popular among IT folks I’ve worked with. I say unfortunate because, to me, assumptions that are recognized early and handled the right way are a key to successful projects. Technical players who use assumptions well can help set projects on the right path long before they go astray.

Sometimes on waterfall and hybrid projects technical players are asked to estimate work early, before requirements are complete. My instinctive reaction is not to provide an ungrounded estimate, but that’s not helpful. The way to handle this uncomfortable uncertainty is to fill out the unknowns with assumptions: detailed, realistic statements that provide grounding for your estimate. Continue reading