BI user documentation: why not build a WIKI?

by Arwold Koelewijn on February 20, 2011

As for every application, relevant and up to date user documentation is essential to support the users. For a Business intelligence application it is even more important, since a lot of user, i.e. management users, are not using this daily. And proper user documentation helps to prevent discussions about the definition of Key Performance Indicators, and other values shown in the reports. Obviously, help functionality of the tool is available but this is related to the way of working with the tool. Also, a good BI tool will have a metadata solution as well, but these are mostly technical of nature and targeted on a specialized audience, not something you will help an average business user with. Businesses therefore need to write their own specific user manuals and metadata on definitions for their BI tools. So why not build a Wiki?

Over the years, Wikipedia has become a well-known source of information on the internet. Anyone can contribute to the content of the Wikipedia, just by clicking edit. Navigating through the tool is easy, makes sense and people are familiar with it. In other words, an interesting tool to support your business users. I myself have used it with succes  in one of my projects to provide BI user documentation. There are a few considerations, technical and functional, to make during the realization of such a tool:

  1. How to get started
  2. Access
  3. Context sensitivity
  4. Structure of the Wiki
  5. Governance

How to get started
The first step is to talk to the IT department to have the software (MediaWiki) installed on a WEB server and discuss how to deal with maintenance. To be able to improve the look and feel (add a logo, change language) it is necessary that you have access to incidental support. The help of MediaWiki is of course build as a Wiki, and as long as you require moderate changes, you can find it there.

Access
The intention of a Wiki is to share information, which is the same of a BI system, but that does not mean share it with the whole internet community. Luckily, setting up authorization is part of the MediaWiki software, so no worries there. In the BI project I worked on the authorization was centrally organized, so everyone who has access to the BI tool, has access to the Wiki as well, with the same username and password (only need to enter initially).

Context sensitivity
It is very useful for a user to have a certain level of context sensitivity. To start from the main page, and search for a question regarding a certain definition or functionality is not user friendly. Ideally a user jumps directly to the right page with the needed information, but a solutions like this can require a lot of implementation effort. Pragmatically, the solutions I choose was in-between. On all the official web reports a button was added pointing to the wiki-page for that report, containing links to definitions and functionalities used in that report.

Structure of the Wiki
The structure of the Wiki is important to help navigate to find the answer. The principle I used in setting up the structure was to make sure that every bit of information was a maximum of three clicks away.

Governance
Since in essence it is possible for anyone to add information to the wiki, it is important to appoint a business user to be responsible for moderating such changes. This is not a high demanding task, since the software alerts you by mail when someone makes a change and keeps a proper track of the changed that were made.

In conclusion: set up properly, a Wiki is an easy and user-friendly tool to support your users. I can highly recommend it.

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