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Mike Masciandaro: Part I - BI Programs and Teams

Mike Masciandaro is, a veteran business intelligence practitioner who recently retired from an illustrious career at Dow Chemical and before that, Rohm & Haas, which Dow acquired in 2009. Mike served as director of BI for both companies for nearly 20 years. During that time, Mike has seen and done just about everything there is to do in the world of BI, data, and analytics. He is now intent on sharing his hard-won knowledge with others.

Key Findings:

  • The key purpose of a BI program is to deliver value to customers.
  • Subject matter experts might be more connected to their functional area, but are key extenders of a BI program.
  • Top-down and bottom-up connectivity is essential. Treat users like customers, and know them by name.
  • The value a BI program delivers should be ten fold the cost of running it.
  • A BI program that lives inside IT has its advantages.
  • A Director of BI should manage the front-end and back-end.

This is an excerpt from the podcast interview between Wayne W. Eckerson and Mike Masciandaro. 

Eckerson: You’ve run BI programs for many years. How do you define a BI program?

Masciandaro: Ultimately, if you’re not creating business value, if you’re not getting information in the hands of business people who are using that information to help the success of their business, then you really don’t have a program or your program will not be sustained. That’s how I define the program: it’s holistic, it’s a lot of components, but most of all it’s a program that helps deliver value for your customers.

Eckerson: lot of people distinguish between a program and a project, a program being a compilation of multiple projects. Would you agree?

MasciandaroAbsolutely. The program itself is a series of projects. But it’s not just projects, it’s more than that. It’s building your staff, having motivated people figuring out what you want to work on, and the governance piece. Those parts aren’t really projects, but the products you’re making are delivered through projects.

Eckerson: Is having dedicated professionals who have been trained in this discipline an absolute requirement for a BI program?

MasciandaroI think that depends on the area of which they’re focusing on. Let me give you an example. If you want to have some technologists who are involved with ETL, those guys have to be dedicated because they have to understand how to do their craft right. And that’s more than a full time job. I had more of those guys in my organizations than anything else.

But if you’re on the functional side, the subject matter side, those people are more loosely connected to the program. They have to be more connected to their function, and they usually have functional responsibilities, but they’re often a key extender of the program. I believe that people have to be dedicated to one task, but I’m biased here because my organization was so large that we had the ability to have that dedication. If you’re a small shop, it’s still valid to have the BI program, but you might have people wearing multiple hats.

Eckerson: Give us a quick description of your team.

MasciandaroWe had dozens of backend architecture people that do ETL and data modeling. There was a much smaller group of front-end people who are involved with the user experience and interface. Then, there were subject matter exerts, some of which reported to me and others that didn’t. Then, you need technology people that are involved with the hardware side and a support organization.

“It has to start small, and then you have to deliver value and build it from there”

Eckerson: In total how many people were on your team?

MasciandaroIn total I'd say a good fifty people worldwide. We probably started with fifteen, but it grew over time because success breeds demand. It has to start small, and then you have to deliver value and build it from there.

Eckerson: What are the keys to delivering that value as a program?

MasciandaroThe key to delivering value is to make sure you’re chasing the value all the time and that the program is not about the technology. The program needs to be about what is important to your users and customers in order for it to be successful.

You have to have connectivity of the organization, top down and bottom up. You have to not only understand from a detail perspective of where your customers are doing things transactionally, but how that chunks up into the requirements of a business at a high level. We had connectivity to our businesses at the business president level. I know these guys by name, I visit them, and we have functional people in the organization who are pressing flesh with these guys. We use every customer interaction as an input to our customer intelligence. We understand who they are, where they are, what their hotspots are, what their current pain points are, and we refocus our efforts and govern our efforts towards delivering products to them.

When I say a product I mean a report, tool, or analytic that helps make them successful. Certain products can be very successful and carry your whole BI program even though you have a thousand different reports. We want the value that we’re producing to be ten fold what we’re costing the company at all times.

Eckerson: So it sounds like the subject matter experts are on the frontlines. Is that a fair assessment?

MasciandaroThat’s a fair assessment and those guys also help to translate the extreme complexity of the transaction side and help put that in context of how it makes sense to manage the business.

For example, when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas, that was a bad situation. Immediately there were a couple questions that arose. Where are all of our people? Where do they live right now? Are they in the flood prone areas? We took detailed data and twist it around to get the spots of where to go after and make sure that people were OK, especially ones that were at greatest risk. After that was solved, then the next question is how is this hurricane and flooding affecting our business, and if so where? Is production down? Are orders down? Are shipments curtailed? Is demand dropping?

Subject matter experts are able to get into that detail and understand what they’re looking at and then try to chunk it up into something that’s meaningful to answer acute questions. This has to be fast – done in hours or days.

Wayne: So, subject matter experts are not only requirements gatherers but domain experts who understand the data and the process of the people in that domain and do fast analysis on behalf of the business they’re aligned with.

 Masciandaro: Absolutely, and they’re gathering data all the time, and they’re going to do it with you or without you. There’s plenty of tools that they can go after in a self-service environment to further their area. The idea is that we are key partners with them to help them be much more effective at translating the complexity into actionable insight. Some of the best relationships we have are with functional partners.

“Mike, you’re the best leader I ever had that I never reported to”

Wayne Eckerson: It sounds like most of the subject matter experts are not on your team, right? How do you work with those not on your team?

MasciandaroYeah, I had direct guys, but the majority was indirectly connected to the team.

One of the guys gave me a big compliment when I retired and said, “Mike, you’re the best leader I ever had that I never reported to.” I feel very humbled by that, but that’s the kind of relationship that you have to have. It doesn’t really matter who’s reporting to who as long as everybody is lined up toward the mission of making the business successful. That’s easy to say, but it’s not so easy to do sometimes because you have to make sure everything’s heading in the same direction. But people do have other priorities. I’ve seen other BI programs that get too hung up in the technology side or even in the data science area. It’s not enough to create a good predictive model. It’s not about building new things, it’s about building things that are effective.

Eckerson: Who should the BI team report to?

MasciandaroAlmost my entire career my organization lived inside IT. And I know as soon as I say that some people are gasping. To me it didn’t matter as long as your focus is the correct focus. Any chief information officer knows they’re not going to have their position long if the IT organization is not perceived as a value driver for the business and ends up being a very large expense on the P and L. I found it very effective to be part of IT because we could generate business connections and get good presence within the business.

Eckerson: Should a director of BI manage both the front-end and back-end?

MasciandaroI’ve always had those two pieces report to me. I think it makes sense. We do have a pretty open architecture, including a broad support of self-service analytics, so we’re not trying to control everything on the front-end. We’re trying to give analysts the ability to create and do ad hoc at the same time of the structured stuff that we’re producing. There needs to be connectivity. I’ve heard too many horror stories of when the back-end works for IT and the front-end people work in the businesses.

Eckerson: What are the biggest pitfalls in managing a BI program and team?

MasciandaroGetting the right kind of resources, people, and talent is a tough, ongoing job. Once you get them, then you have to retain them. You have to be a leader that people feel like they want to work for, and they want to be treated fairly from a comp perspective. There’s such a demand for these people, and keeping them is difficult.

Eckerson: How do you hire the best people and retain them?

MasciandaroKeep looking, keep upgrading. I have always found success in hiring people from smaller practices because I think the larger organizations pull their talent from the Internet anyway. So, they’re trying to do the same thing as you are.

Let your employees get out and learn the latest technologies, then upgrade to those new technologies. Your people will feel good because they are learning, growing, working with the latest technologies, and they’ll feel like they are being paid attention to. I was always pretty visible within the organization.


Wayne Eckerson

Wayne Eckerson is an internationally recognized thought leader in the business intelligence and analytics field. He is a sought-after consultant and noted speaker who thinks critically, writes clearly and presents...

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