Detective Joe Friday had a way with words.
Even if you’ve never seen a Dragnet re-run in your life, you’re probably familiar with the catchphrase he inevitably uttered at least once each week: “Just the facts, ma’am.”
It’s a good motto for running your business. The foundation of every BI system is the desire to let objective, relevant information drive action–in other words, to empower and enlighten workers about data and to make decisions after they’ve looked carefully at “just the facts.”
But there’s more to it than that. As humans we have an innate ability to use our neocortex (the part of the brain where abstract reasoning, imagination and mathematics are processed) to validate what our limbic brain (where emotions are processed) is “feeling”. Think about it, when we have a “gut feeling” about how business is going, the first thing we do is try to validate that feeling with “numbers.” The problem is we can’t take in and effectively analyze the terabytes of raw information now readily available; we’re just not built that way. There’s a lot more I want to cover on this subject, but for now, let’s start with the end in mind.
We need systems to filter out the extraneous bits, and, just as importantly, we need systems to present the most relevant information in ways we can easily assimilate. To do that well a Business Intelligence solution has to place a premium on design.
I know: Aesthetics and user experience seem like soft targets at first, especially if you consider yourself a numbers person. But in the case of a solid BI solution like Halo BI, the focus on design is all about letting form following function.
Good Design Makes Information Consumption Effortless
When a user glances at a well-designed BI dashboard, she should get an immediate overview of how the company is doing relative to her responsibilities. Everything she needs to make the decisions you depend upon her to make should be right there, ideally on one easy-to-view screen. Not only should the dashboard as a whole be carefully designed for maximum comprehension, but so should each element on the dashboard. KPI’s should leap out at her, as should any serious anomalies. That just won’t happen if you’re relying on poor design.
Good Design Leads Viewers Through Consistent Processes
As it turns out, we tend to take-in visual representations of information in predictable ways. Most of us, for example, look first at the upper-right hand portion of a screen before glancing at other sections. Quality design can exploit these tendencies and, through thoughtful layout, lead a BI dashboard user through a consistent process for consuming and acting upon a given set of data. The flip side, of course, is that poor design can actually prevent this kind of consistency from taking root.
Good Design Turns Data into Actionable Information
I’ve said it before: data is dumb. In the raw, a large collection of data can lead knowledge workers astray, or in many cases, virtually paralyze them. That’s a terrible waste of your company’s greatest asset–human intelligence. A well-designed BI solution can take at least the preliminary layer of analysis off a worker’s plate. Think of something as simple as the judicious use of icons. Putting them in-line with raw numbers to show the direction of trends can make scanning a set of metrics and choosing a course of action much simpler.
Good Design Ultimately Makes ROI Possible
Okay, here’s the big one. A poorly designed tool isn’t an asset, it’s a cost sink. It doesn’t matter if the tool is a $3.00 utility knife from the big-box DIY store or an enterprise-level software solution. If no one trusts the results, or if it’s hard to use, no one is going to turn to it when it’s time to get things done. We’re back to trusting our “gut feel instinct” which seems to ignore the last 40,000 years of neocortex evolution. It’s impossible to reach ROI without validating the “gut feeling”. Quality design is only one step in the process of optimizing your data assets, It is a beginning of a long road to ensure that workers trust and use tour investment in BI.
So, there you have it. Four ways that design impacts information presentation and a little insight into what that means for the knowledge workers in your organization.
Hey, it’s just the facts.