Greenfield Business Intelligence – where do we start?

Generally, the human condition means that we often don’t know when to start doing, and don’t know when to stop. I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples in life! This happens in business a lot; as an illustrative example, some managers might not be willing to stop a strategy which the evidence shows isn’t working…. conversely, they don’t know when to start a new strategy.

The human condition also applies to business intelligence, since it involves people. However, there is the added problem of not knowing how to start, or how to stop. Greenfield business intelligence projects might sound like a dream; completely new technology, completely new solution to design, build and test, and there’s no hangover from previous bad coding.

Greenfield business intelligence does give us another set of problems, however. The human condition means that users don’t know what they want. This may sound strange, but sometimes users can perhaps lack confidence to say what they think that they might need now or in the future. After all, who wants to take the blame when something goes wrong later on? User input and experience is extremely valuable in producing business intelligence solutions and it’s very important to include them early on. So, if you can’t get the user input easily, what can you do?

Greenfield business intelligence isn’t all about technology; there are people issues as well.  In these situations, the following advice might help:
  • As a recommended strategy, producing reports in an agile way can help users to provide feedback. This will increase their confidence in the system, in addition to feeling that their input is valuable. It wouldn’t hurt to drive home that their input is necessary to make the project a success. This means that report changes can be done in a kaikaku way – iterative, smaller changes that constitute a part of the overall whole.
  • Remember that Excel is your friend; users love Excel. Users eally appreciate being able to see something. An ideal way to do this is to produce a few mock-up reports in Excel with some made-up data. Users tend to give an almost visceral response, for example, ‘I really like that, I really need that!’ or ‘ugh, not what I wanted  at all!’ This can help focus your efforts in planning the data that goes into the data warehouse.
  • Use a ‘traffic light’ system to identify what you must have, what you should have, and what’s not necessary. In project management speak, this is sometimes called the MosCow method: Must have, Should have, Could have. This is easy for everyone to understand, and can help move the requirements to move forward quite quickly.
  • All feedback is useful; the negative and the positive. If people don’t like a report or need the data, then it’s good to be ‘lean’ and not include it at all. Why give yourself extra work to include data which isn’t necessary?
  • In Kimball’s books, this is a real emphasis on this strategy and the first few chapters are about the ways of talking to business users. If you haven’t read any Kimball, I can really recommend the wisdom you’ll find there.
To summarise, although getting user input can be difficult, there are some tools to use which can help to obtain it more easily. It’s better to try and get user input in the planning phase rather than after you’ve spent months working on a business intelligence solution that does not answer the business questions. If that happens, the users won’t accept the solution and it’s ultimate failure.

I’d love your comments and if you’ve any other advice, please do leave a comment. I’d love to learn from your experiences!


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