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The Performance Perspectives Blog: Face watches and BI failures
Delaney Turner 270002T14M firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  business_intelligence dashboards user_adoption cognos
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A business intelligence project can fail for reasons far too numerous to explore in single post; for now I'm going to explore one in particular:
"Why isn't my business intelligence easier to use?"
Part of the answer has to do with the failure to meet user expectations. Many deployments fail to take hold because even though the data is accurate, users have to work to get the answers they need. Sometimes their BI overwhelms them with detail; sometimes it doesn't give them enough. Users expecting a high-level summary will be frustrated at having to wade through countless rows and columns. Users who need those rows and columns will balk at a dashboard full of dials.
If you're a regular reader, you won't be surprised that this idea comes from an unusual source.
One morning last week, CBC Radio Ottawa ran a piece that explored university students' attitudes towards time; specifically, their preference for time rendered in digital format (displayed on a cel phone or iPod) over time rendered in analog format (on a face watch). Students remarked that a digital display was "better" because it was more precise. One appreciated that she could see the difference between 4:45 PM and 4:47 PM. Another said digital formats were simply easier to use because you "didn't have to work too hard."
Whether digital is "better" than analog isn't really the point. The point is that each display meets its users' expectations and guides their decisions about what to do. Each user group needs but a quick glance at their device to get the information they need.
Sounds like a dashboard, doesn't it?
The students' use of digital time helps them focus on the immediate and the specific. They expect their devices to tell them whether it's 4:45 or 4:47 because there's a lot they can do in those two minutes, often using the same device telling the time. Face watch fans, on the other hand, focus on the future and the approximate. Yes, they could track time on a minute-by-minute basis, but I'd argue that a two-minute span is less important to them than knowing whether they have 10, 20 or 45 minutes left to finish what they're doing.
Now think about your BI deployment: a single data point (time), rendered in two distinct ways (crosstab and gauge), can serve two distinct sets of expectations (detail or summary?). Financial analysts, for example, need to explore data in detail and expect to see it at first glance. A CFO looking at a five-year forecast, on the other hand, may be more interested in overall trends and leave the specificity to his team.
Digital or analog? Crosstab or gauge? Detail or summary? There's room and roles for both in your BI deployment. Just be sure that when you roll it out you know what your users expect. Give them the opposite - that is, make them work too hard - and you'll wind up on the fast track to failure.