Thursday, May 13, 2010

BI User Adoption

Imagine yourself in the cockpit of a Boeing 747. You are the pilot, and you've got some difficult decisions to make. The plane is running low on fuel, with just enough to make it to your destination and land the plane. You've lost an engine, and you're carrying a fairly heavy load (okay, so you'll have to imagine yourself as a pilot prior to baggage checking fees coming into effect). Your co-pilot is, well, pre-occupied with a young flight attendant and a dry martini.

Having never flown a plane before, you stare down at the instrumentation panel and cluster of gauges in front of you, and you're confused.

This is often how the end users of BI implementations feel when they look down at their screens. While the content on the screen may provide the solutions to all business problems and more, the tools aren't easy to use and they're hard on the eyes.

BI vendors would all have you believing that their software suite provides the perfect solution to this ongoing problem. With all the glitz of glossy marketing materials, they insist that they are providing the best looking and easiest to use software in the business. What they're not telling you is that it's their job to lie...err...I mean sell.

This is one of those problems that money doesn't solve. You can throw tons of capital at your reports and dashboards and bring in every vendor under the BI umbrella, but at the end of the day, you'll still be left with an ugly and useless hunk of trash (exaggeration for emphasis).

In order to address this issue, you'll need some creative resources. Find someone with the ability to place themselves in the shoes of a non-technical computer user and identify the shortfalls of your user interface, yet knowledgable regarding the technical capabilities of the software. Find another person who has an eye for design and knows what will be pleasing to the eye while providing meaningful insights to the end user. BI is not just about data warehousing, coding and report authoring. We need to reconnect with the creative side we were so in touch with as children.

Don't believe it? Take a look at the average kindergarden student using an Apple product. Upon picking it up, they can almost immediately make it work for them and find the information (or iPhone game) that they're after. While they may not be landing airplanes, we can benefit by taking a page or two from their book.

Not sure where to find the latest edition? You may want to start with Stephen Few's "Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Communication of Data".

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