How to segment your reporting users

The Problem

The vast majority of your business users will never use your Business Intelligence tools.  There are only 5% (or 1 in 20) of your “users” of business intelligence (BI) tools that will want to “self serve” their information requests.  Those users will actually learn the tool, need minor support, and will be on their merry little ways.

Unfortunately, most of the BI tools are built and designed for those users who will never use the tool.  This huge misallocation of resources and effort will cost your company a lot of time and money.  If you don’t tier your users, you will waste time building your data structures and advanced tools to appeal to a set of business users who consume reports, but don’t use the tools.

The Solution

Business Intelligence Tool

Use these measurements to create tiers of users

Separate your business users into these three tiers:  Shadow IS, Advanced Users, and Managers.  Once you have these groups; work with Shadow IS and Advanced Users to build your BI tools and systems.  Sorting the BI tool users into the three groups is simple, once you know what they look like.  Next, we will describe the groups/tiers and describe solutions for them.


The term “Shadow IS” refers to the person that is hired to directly meet the reporting needs of a department or manager.  This person may actually report into Information Systems (IS).  This Shadow IS person will be assembling and building reports to meet the needs of the Tier 3 customer group, the “Managers.”  Working with these Shadow IS individuals will give you 95% of the reporting requirements that the business has because this is the group that is already creating the reports for 95% of the business.

How to identify a Tier 1 user:

  • When you mention the term SQL (sounds like sequel) they don’t flinch or have their eyes glaze over.
  • They can use a vlookup in Excel.
  • They are actively creating or modifying several reports.
  • They are the group that people go to when they can’t figure reporting issues out themselves.

Solutions for a Tier 1 user:

Using tools is not the problem for these users, getting access to data is their main challenge.  Your solution should allow them to access and create relationships between different sources of data.  It should allow them to schedule reports and should allow them to get to the most detailed level of information.


This group of people has an aptitude and interest in running their own reports.  They are, however, limited in their domain knowledge or skill set.  Because of this limitation, these users are interested in manipulating existing reports.  This is the type of person that will take a report and “just need to add a field or two” to an existing report.  If given the right reporting solution, this group of users can handle nearly all of the remaining reporting needs.

How to identify a Tier 2 user:

  • They are known to modify existing reports.
  • They will know how to use a vlookup in Excel.
  • Reporting is not their primary job responsibility, but they help out when their manager directly asks them to.

Solutions for a Tier 2 user:

Your solution for this group of users should focus on allowing them to build reports with the main 20-30 fields.  This group ideally needs a part of the 20-30 key information fields, so that they can pull them into or take out of a report.  Providing cube solutions for this group of users is a great option.


I use the term “Manager” to describe the mindset, not their actual role within the company.  This group of users will react to reports, but not generate them.  In essence, they are managing the information, but not developing.  This group receives the reports that others create for them.  Ideally they use this information to make business decisions.  They may sound interested in running reports themselves, but when asked, they are not actively creating any reports.  This group may or may not be aware of their own short term interest in a reporting tool.  They will come to meetings to direct or provide guidance on a reporting solution, but will not create more than two or three reports after the initial training.  They will, in fact, ask a Tier 2 or Tier 1 person to adjust their reports for them and/or maintain the reports for them.  Spending your time and resources focusing on developing tools so that this group is able to “self serve” ignores the reality that these people want the information but don’t want to get it themselves.

How to identify a Tier 3 user:

The key to identifying this group is to look at what they actually accomplish in terms of developing their own reports.

  • They do not create their own reports.
  • They do not publish reports that go to a large distribution group.
  • They primarily rely on others to provide the information to them.

Note:  The majority of the business users should not have to create their own reports.  It is a better use of these business users’ time to focus on what they do best.  Sales people should be focusing on selling.  Marketing people should be focusing on how to get products or services to the market.  Finance should be reporting on accounting activity and managing the company’s money.

Solutions for a Tier 3 user:

If you feel that your BI tool or solution needs to have a solution for the Tier 3 users, offer the solution for Tier 2 users as the solution for Tier 3 and make some low maintenance training available (video tutorials, Quick Reference Sheets or monthly training introduction class).  Make sure that this package or solution for Tier 3 users does not require a lot of continued resources.  Remember, Tier 3 users will tend to lose interest very quickly.


Your Tier 1and Tier 2 users are handling the majority of the reporting needs of the company.  Getting this group the data in a timely, accurate and relevant manner will dramatically increase the productivity of your BI tool.  Reaching out to Tier 3 users will increase the amount of training and meetings and provides very little actionable changes to the reporting tool.

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