Brain Training to Create BI Power Users (Part 1)

By Jim Van de Water

Do you wish your organization had more BI power users?

BI power users build complex reports, drive statistical models, satisfy ever changing regulatory reporting, and drive sophisticated analysis for your management team. These folks do the heavy data lifting at your organization. They are the data gurus, good ones are hard to find, and they don’t work cheaply. Without a sizeable contingent of these brainiacs, you’re stuck in a world of basic operational reporting. With them, you can rule the data that drives your business and sound decision making. You don’t have to wish for power users. Create them. This blog series will explain how.

There are many types of thinkers working in your organization. The people who make up your analytical community are no exception. Brain science splits learners into two camps – the visual and the logical learners, corresponding to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. The way to train your analysts is to cater to how each of their brains operates by bringing a little science into your tool selection, user enablement and training.

What is the right approach? You could survey each analyst to discover their learning style, then craft an optimal learning path with customized toolsets and techniques. That approach is likely to be slow, painful and expensive. Instead, tap into their instincts by leveraging their natural learning style. Latch onto their brains.

What does a brain-centric approach to creating BI power users look like?

As a visual thinker, SQL training threw me into a proverbial rabbit hole. I was set back months in my development as an analyst. Several years later when I started training end users on tool use, I thought everyone wanted to start out building querying skills using visual tools. I was fooled – twice – maybe you have been too. My predilection for visual tools is just as disabling a bias as a focus on pure SQL. We need to work with both camps. Truth be told most of your users do prefer starting with visual tools. On the other hand, some of your users are already comfortable with visual tools and need to work with code to enable more productivity. Forcing a right brainer into code too quickly, or a left brainer into image based analysis, is a mistake that is counterproductive to human growth.

The right mix of tools and support plays to both sides of the brain to enable your users to grow at an optimal pace. Visual enhances code, code explains and reinforces visual. Access to both types of tools, as well as the hybrid visual tools that allow code display – will please all your fledgling brainiacs. The better your development program accommodates their brains, the quicker you’ll see results. The ‘secret sauce’ is recognizing the delicate dance between images and words that deepens understanding. Power users’ brains work with a rich set of visual and coded tools.

I propose that the reason it is so difficult to grow BI power users is that we continue to ignore differences in how people think. We deploy tools using data requirements, not people requirements, and certainly not thinking requirements. Don’t ignore the differences. Grow your analysts incrementally by bringing their visual and logical parts into lockstep.

In my next blog, I’ll trudge deeper into this topic to explore how the right triage of tools and capabilities can help build that elusive BI power user community.

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