Monday, March 14, 2011

Intuitive Analytics

It was a packed house listening to a panel discussion between two CIOs, a CEO, a vendor and an academician. After almost an hour of discussion on various aspects of Business Intelligence challenges and opportunities, the session end requested final words on what they would like to see from vendors in the future ? Leaving aside the Oscar-ian twist on being good to customers, better decision making and paying more attention to talent, the crowd applauded unanimously to the CIOs wish list. The CIO representing a “mature” user of solutions from the sponsor BI vendor, made a passionate appeal:

Has anyone in the audience attended a training program on how to use Facebook, or any other website or messaging system ? If no, then why do we require everyone even with above average intelligence in the corporate world to be provided training on usage of internal systems ? What makes these systems so complex that they cannot be used without handholding ?

I wish that we can all evolve to a level of BI/DW tools such that any user within the enterprise can start using transactional data to convert to information that can assist informed decision making. Anyone who can use a spreadsheet should be able to extract the insights hidden within the sea of information. They should be able to intuitively understand what is expected from them to get to the next step with no prompting or help (online or otherwise). I am talking about Intuitive Analytics, a term coined by me a while back to refer to analytics that is intuitive in its interface; intuitive to the user the way s/he is able to open the browser on the PC, Smartphone or tablet and start the journey of discovery on the Internet.

In recent times there have been multiple initiatives around improvement of how information is presented to the consumers. Evolution from rows and columns to dashboards, drill-downs, pivots, multi-dimensional analytics has evolved; the evolution of mathematical models as well as technological advances on speed of crunching data have pushed the boundaries across enterprise datawarehouse projects. Over the last three years, DW/BI has consistently been in the top 3 technology and business priorities.

The experiences are however inconsistent in their delivery of business value. Some of the barriers include data quality, data model deficiencies, bad ETLs to name a few. The biggest deterrent has however been the complex user experience which has seen lesser evolution as compared to the technological advances. All tools with no notable exception provide the basic building blocks to create the DW/BI foundation and analytical layer; standard templates, internal IT teams and implementation partners have yet to breakout from the mould to provide a rich, consistent, and meaningful capability to the end consumer of information.

I believe that this is an opportunity for one and all, CIO, DW Architects, vendors, implementation partners, to take up this challenge on making BI as easy as getting on any social media site and get started. If you have already crossed this bridge, do write back, but the applause on the floor to my comments, makes me believe that the journey is still more like an uncharted expedition.


  1. Arun, this seems like a neat business-idea for the likes of Zuckerberg :) An insightful post!


  2. Intuitive analytic is surely a great way to engage business users for effective decision making. We being in BI product space we have found that business users has an inherent inertia to work on applications and spend time to work on it. Consumers even on FB or phone will spend good amount of time trying and searching various options and find their way out to use the gadget or application effectively to his minimum use. If the same consumers spend similar time on business applications like analytic I am sure they need not go through formal training program to use BI and we have seen success with 1KEY. One great idea example which we did with 1KEY BI was to make it work within Outlook - Exchange. As Outlook email client will always be open hence user clicks on Sales Folder and run sales cube or sales dashboard in Outlook pane itself. This made tremendous impact on BI adoption and usage. Second part difference on FB or Phone gadgets are consumers personal use or personal showcase hence there is a sense of ownership in using or exploiting the application like FB or Gadget like ipad. Whereas in case of BI kind of business standardized application being available and possibly simple and intuitive still not adopted or used because of ownership issues. Users will thrive on Excel because they own that piece of data and analysis and time is invested by himself doing work so ownership becomes important. The time when there is enough personalization and collaboration power given in BI applications then intuitive analytic and BI adoption will be a reality.