Neglected things EDW/BI Teams Should Do More Often – Pull Back the Curtain

Last time, I talked about why Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW) and Business Intelligence (BI) teams should be very interested in marketing, even (gasp!) getting out of their cubicles, hitting the road, and “selling” their wares to their broader organization. Let’s face it, we purveyors of data exist to serve our customers in their analytical needs, and if we don’t do it, or if our customers don’t know what we already have, someone else will fill that (real or perceived) void.

One of the things that I think keeps us from getting out and marketing is that we hesitate to expand our user base because it might mean more work for us. New users means not only additional support and education, but it also means there will be more eyeballs on the data and that always surfaces more data quality and metric calculation issues. But that kind of thinking we can fall into is so very short-sighted. If we want to provide a long-term essential service to our customers, we should welcome more scrutiny of our data and calculations because the sooner we find those issues, the sooner we can fix them. Otherwise the data integrity issues will build and build and eventually catch up with us in a much more severe, and likely public, way.

That leads us to this week’s encouragement: pull back the curtain to allow your customers to see the inner workings of your EDW and BI solutions, and as a result you will create a high-quality, trusted organizational asset.

How can pulling back the curtain help build quality and trust? Because two of the biggest enemies of EDW improvement are obscurity and confusion, and obscurity and confusion are what happens when the curtain is tightly shut.

By obscurity I’m talking about plain old not being aware of what is available from a data, report, or dashboard standpoint in the organization. If I’m a nursing unit director, and I’d like to see if a particular unit is improving in its pain management scores, in most organizations my options for figuring out if something already exists that can help me are very limited. I might ask around to my peers to see if anyone knows about an existing report, or if I have a go-to IT or data analyst type I might give him or her a call, otherwise I’m going to submit a new report request and wait for someone to either point me in the direction of an existing report or put me in the queue for a new one. Even then, most request processes only cover a limited number of systems in the organization, so if the Patient Experience department has their own dashboard with pain management scores on it already, I may never find out about it and in a few weeks I might get a redundant report from the report development team.

By confusion I’m talking about the lack of transparency of business logic that leads to an inability to determine how data elements and metrics are calculated, which inevitably leads to competing data and uncertainty about which data is right. As a leader or data analyst I might have access to screens full of data, but if I have no way of finding out how patients were included in the diabetic population for instance, I’m probably going to continue to do chart review because I can’t trust this list with no context behind it. And we’ve all probably been at meetings where we’ve witnessed conflicting metric results, like readmission rates, and neither party knows what definition is being used or how to find that information out very easily. Population, data element, and metric definition confusion is a big problem in nearly every organization in which we’ve worked.

Ok, so I’ve spent a lot of time describing the problem, but I haven’t left myself a lot of space to describe the solution. Fortunately the solution to both the obscurity and confusion problems are easily said (if not so easily done). Here’s the answer: pull back the curtain! Expose the business logic of your populations, metrics, and data elements to all so they know what metric they are dealing with and how it is calculated, or so they can search for “pain management” and find any reports, dashboards, or otherwise that meet their need. Knowledge is power, and this is really true in healthcare provider organizations where there are so very many metrics, so many disparate data systems, and so many groups calculating and validating and being held responsible (via metrics) for performance.

Now in order to pull back the curtain, you are going to need tools to help you. Not big, expensive tools, but a spreadsheet or document on a shared drive isn’t going to cut it. You need something web-based, easy-to-use, and with all the back-end connections (and yes, some people power too) to make sure your metric definitions are accurate and that all the reports, dashboards, and other objects are there for people to find. And I know this will shock you, but we can help you there, so contact us to learn more!

Having said all that, a tool alone won’t get you to transparency. What is required first is a shift in thinking from “this data is mine” to “this data is ours.” And that shift in thinking, though challenging, is nothing compared to the revolution in thinking I’ll discuss next time!

Kevin Campbell

I have over 20 years of experience in healthcare business intelligence and performance improvement, including developing enterprise data warehouses for large hospital and clinic systems. My work with other healthcare consulting firms and desire to help healthcare organizations leverage scarce resources through innovative approaches led me to co-found DTA; I believe we offer a unique value and perspective to organizations struggling with outcomes stagnation or other problems.

We’ve helped clients across the country accelerate toward value-based healthcare delivery.

Let us do the same for you.