If we look at the focus of technology vendors for analytics and business intelligence or business applications providers deploying these capabilities in the last five years, we see that they have elevated the importance on the value of visualization and dashboards. These promotions might be understandable, but will they make business and the people using them more intelligent?
If you have followed my views in recent years on the pathetic state of dashboards, you know my skepticism; I seriously doubt that organizations that believe these claims are reaching their full potential. It has been decades since the first deployments of these technologies, and while visualization has gotten smarter, it has not gotten simpler to translate it into actionable information. Most business professionals are not trained to interpret visualization, let alone determine what to do with it. We assert that these systems must be easier to work with for all levels of business users. Our benchmark research consistently finds that Usability is the top priority in evaluating software for almost two-thirds (63%) of organizations, though I question whether it figures so heavily when business analysts determine what is best for the majority of those in the organization are not prioritizing usability for everyone else.
More troubling is the time that users of these tools waste in trying to navigate into charts and tables of data to find information that might offer actionable insight and should be just surfaced to them in the first place. For analytics and BI systems to truly be smarter, the information they offer should be presented in language that business users understand. Advances in natural-language processing used with analytics and BI systems have been bolted on, so that the language is presented after the visualization, which is the opposite of what organizations need.
That is only the beginning of what they need. Any summary of insights should be personalized to the roles and responsibilities of individual users, and easy for them to access and learn as they use the system. More importantly, insights should be pushed to individuals through notifications on their computers, mobile devices or even by automated phone calls to individuals from devices like Amazon Echo Alexa, Google Home or Apple iOS Siri type interface. Such notifications make individuals aware of what is most important, just like breaking news on a mobile device, and the systems must enable users to act on alerts to get more information.
Notifications can alert individuals how to get more information to read or to analyze data in the form that the individual best understands. If it is required, the individual should be able to open a digital discussion with others through collaboration to determine what should be done. Then tasks can be created, assigned and prioritized to ensure that something is done about the issue. This kind of workflow mirrors how people naturally work in organizations, but most BI and analytics systems don’t pick up on it since they are designed for analysts or IT personnel who do not represent how the rest of the business operates or wants the systems to operate.
It is also time we start to think about how to enable our information systems to empower businesses to make better decisions. Current methods and deployments fall short, distracting business users and managers into wasting their valuable time in noodling over visualizations and dashboards designed for analysts. One key advance in technology is machine learning, which my colleague covers and wrote about recently. It can be applied to elevate not only potential insights to review and act on (or ignore) but also to guide individuals and provide recommendations on what might be important to focus on.
Are you sure you have the right strategy to achieve real business intelligence that informs and guides all professionals about what they should know or care about and does not just focus on analysts who know analytics? Most of the tools in our organizations are not fit to help everyone work together and garner intelligent information from their BI and analytics tools. If you do not feel confident here, please let me know. Ventana Research can help you extract the most value from existing investments and prevent excessive investments into analytics and BI that are not designed for everyone in your organization. If you do not step back and assess your business intelligence needs, you could be wasting the valuable time of business professionals on unimportant information; even worse, they could be taking the wrong actions or making bad decisions.
CEO and Chief Research Officer