In a recent article in Computerworld, Monash University lecturer, Peter O’Donnell gave his opinion that; BI solutions are too sexy, contributing to low utilisation rates.
Peter argues, "A lot of the tools are very sexy. You can do 3D pie charts and donut charts; in theoretical terms it is known as the data to ink ratio. If you have embellishments and 3D effects you are using a lot of ink for only a small amount of data". This he added makes it difficult for your average user to understand the reports generated out of the BI tool.
Some tools offer too many widgets and buttons, over complicating the user experience and therefore end up being hard to use; but in my view, sexy isn’t the problem, says Glen Rabie, CEO of Yellowfin Business Intelligence. If a BI tool is sophisticated and provides the business user with an easy to use interface then what is going to stop high take up rates.
As a world trend, BI utilization rates are actually growing, you see analytics almost everywhere in many different forms; Workers at many levels of the modern organisation use and benefit from data analysis tools. So for those BI vendors that offer “easy to use” tools with some of that sexy functionality, you don't want to confuse implementation with what is often required in the sales process.
The idea that vendors are responsible for the poor implementations of BI projects is not correct. Any enterprise product can be implemented badly or well. Just because a product offers extravagant features does not immediately mean it will be a dead duck. However, vendors are driven to show-off their “bells and whistles” ("extra ink") during the sales cycle to differentiate their product from the competition. Implemented well, these “bells and whistles” can look awesome and really help to sell product.
O’Donnell refers to Edward Tuffe in terms of Ink and quite frankly his comments are not an accurate fit when discussing modern BI tools. Tuffe was talking about too much Ink back in 1975 when the main place people came across charts and data visualisation was in newspapers where artists emphasised the slant of the article through exaggerated graphics.
Having said that, we acknowledge, some of the modern vendor bells and whistles have crossed the line into bloat-ware. A classic example is the bouncing flash chart. It’s painful to wait for the bouncing to stop so you can focus on the value of the data.
It is clear that BI vendors are feeling the pressure to include these embellishments; but what is driving these developments? After all vendors don’t develop product for the fun of it – new releases and upgrades are based upon getting a positive return on investment; In short, increased sales.
If we could somehow stop the demand for things like the rotating 3D pie then all would be good. Unfortunately, I cannot see how that will change in the short term (not that I am a huge fan of even the basic 3D pie anyway!).
The landscape is changing, today’s analytics and the expectation of a clean ‘low ink’ delivery style is becoming more pervasive. A good example is Google Analytics.
At Yellowfin, we often have customers referring to Google Analytic dashboards when describing the type of BI deployment they want. That’s not to say that Google is perfect but some of the things they do is clever and great design. The interesting attitude is that people refer to it as a benchmark.
With the evolution of the web - customers and vendors alike are able to easily research all the BI tools available and are deciding what tools work for them. Like natural selection, the market driven by users and their business problems will over time select for features that work, ignoring features that offer little value.
What is interesting though is there is a growing debate about ‘what is good report design?’ in terms of delivery, I agree with the discussion and I am eager to watch the outcomes of it.
Traditionally BI tools were the domain of IT rather than business users. Very little focus is given to the design of content and the information it is intended to convey. Report and dashboard development is all too often a technical process not a design one.
Now with BI tools such as Yellowfin that have been designed specifically for the business professional; these subject matter experts now have the ability to deliver data and visualise business meaning in ways most effective in communicating to stakeholders.
At Yellowfin, we are going to do our bit, clearly there are some things we do to help sell our application but at the same time we make sure that it does not get in the way of ease of use. People can quickly and easily build reports and data visualisations that they need to help them in their knowledge work. Sometimes there is a place for the bell and whistle - often it’s about the right choice of bell and whistle to draw the user’s attention to what they should be looking for in the data.