Making the most of your power user

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The business of government includes the business of data. But to work with data effectively, agencies must first be able to produce it.

A typical data request, which is often submitted by a stakeholder, goes through an organization's IT shop. A couple of weeks are spent gathering requirements. Then, after numerous iterations of design, development, testing and reviews, the report is ready weeks or months later. In today's environment, government can't afford to wait that long to make mission-critical decisions.

Often, however, the stakeholders know someone who can streamline (or bypass) this lengthy process and has the skills to produce actionable data quickly. The stakeholder would refer to this person as a power user -- a job function is not officially listed on any organizational chart, but a critical role in virtually every agency. The power user earned this role through years of trial and error, exploring data tool features, and perfecting the skill of data wrangling.

The power user/stakeholder relationship

Government power users understand their organization's business and politics from top to bottom. Their role has grown out of necessity to meet the organization's ever-changing data demands. These individuals are tech-savvy and knows how to use the data tools available within their organization. They know how to gather and manipulate data, create reports and design dashboards. Power users respond to constant data requests and deliver results fast; a service the stakeholder won't receive by going through the IT shop, which is all too often focused on infrastructure and longer development cycles.

The stakeholder is the one issuing the request and can be anybody from within the organization: peers, managers, executives, etc. Stakeholders need information but don't have the capability to get it themselves, which is why data warehouses are so important. These warehouses already have integrated and cleansed data. Stakeholders can print an existing report, but most of the time they are not comfortable creating new ones. That's where the power user springs into action.

Effective communication between the power user and stakeholders is essential for preparing and presenting data quickly. They both must be in sync when it comes to producing the requested data, yet that's not always the case.

When reaching out to the power user, the stakeholder should consider these tips:

1. Provide clarity: Avoid open-ended requests. When communicating with the power user, the stakeholder must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-based. Let's look at this tip a little deeper:

  • Specific: Include the most detail possible at the request stage to save everyone time. This specificity reduces the number of iterations to complete a request.
  • Measurable: Have a way to quantify and measure the power user's output to determine if it matches the requested data.
  • Attainable: Determine if the requested data actually exists.
  • Relevant: Confirm that the requested data will help get the desired results so action can be taken.
  • Time-based: Make clear whether the request has a two-hour, two-day or two-week turnaround. Knowing this deadline helps the power user with prioritization.

2. Explain why:Stakeholders should share with the power user why the data is needed. By understanding the context of a request early in the process, the power user can identify and gather the best data from the most appropriate source(s).

3. Review results: Once the stakeholder has the results, a walkthrough with the power user is important. This allows the stakeholder to confirm that the results meet the needs. Remember to factor in review time when providing a deadline.

To be clear: The onus of effective communication does not lay solely at the stakeholder's feet. The power user has as much responsibility for communicating effectively to ensure the best outcome possible.

The absence of effective communication between the stakeholder and power user could have serious ramifications -- inaccurate or incomplete results can lead to dangerously poor decisions. Plus, without effective and complete communications at the beginning, timely delivery of the data will be affected. Late delivery of data slows down the decisions and actions required to meet an organization's dynamic demands. Effective communication ensures everyone gets the results they need.

About the Author

Mark DeRosa is director of business intelligence and analytics at Definitive Logic.


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