Your Organization’s First Notebooks

How to introduce BI notebooks into your organization.

Taylor Brownlow
Mar 2 · 3 min read

This is article 4 of our “call for better analytical tools” series:

Notebooks are powerful tools with multiple use cases. But what’s the best way to bring them into your organization? Where can they have the biggest impact? The answer will depend on your organization’s culture, and existing data stack, but there’s one sure-fire place where they have the ability to transform your team’s agility and performance: the data request.

Data requests: the most important process no one likes

No matter the size of your company, or the complexity of your operation, if your organization has data, and someone who can access it, you have data requests: requests for data to help inform a business decision.

Fundamentally, data requests are good things-they indicate people across the organization want to be more data-driven. But as anyone who’s been asked to answer these requests can attest to, they are often sources of more pain than pleasure.

  • They’re never “quick”: Despite how often the requestor might insist it’ll be ‘a quick one’, there are always follow-up questions that can stretch a simple task from hours to days or even weeks.
  • They never end: As an analyst, your inbox is always overflowing with these requests, and each seems to be more ‘urgent’ than the next. They are constant distractions from your day job, which some of your coworkers may be surprised to hear is not answering their every data question.

Some of these requests are genuinely low-value and should be minimized. But the biggest danger is to view these data requests as an evil to be abolished, rather than as the exciting frontier that they are.

The only way to improve is to learn something new. Data requests are the engine of discovery for any organization, and when done right provide huge value by creating new knowledge, one data point at a time.

Turning the tables

So how can notebooks transform an often painful process into one that works for analysts and the business alike?

1. Time to insight.

Because an analyst can go from data to presentation in one document, they will save loads of time not switching between tools.

2. Quality of communication.

As the analyst surrounds their analysis with context and explanation, the reader immediately has a much deeper understanding of not just the chart, but how the analysis was done, and how they can apply it to their world.

3. Quick iterations.

Having contextualized analysis should lead to fewer follow-up questions, but when those questions do arise, it’s far easier to tweak a few lines in a notebook than digging out old queries and spreadsheets from the depths of your desktop.

Combined with an effective triage system that requires requesters to provide upfront information and a clear scope, we’ve seen notebooks revolutionize the speed of decision-making in organizations.

The beauty of this change is that it’s so easy to adopt. Data requests are, by definition, requests for new information making them an ideal use case for the trial and adoption of a new tool into the organization, even if your company continues to use a traditional BI product for more regular reporting in the meantime.

Growing from here

But notebooks have a far greater role to play. Using data-requests as a launch-pad, they are easily extended into other gaps left behind by traditional BI tools like:

  • Data wikis and definitions
  • Self-service analytics
  • External-facing reports

No matter where you start, notebooks have the ability to make a profound impact on the way your organization uses and communicates data.

So what are you waiting for?

Have you tried implementing notebooks in your organization? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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