Business_Intelligence

The Last Mile of Business Intelligence (Revisited)

Here’s another re-juice-inated blog post from years ago. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for us, even after almost eight years, we’re still in the last mile. Even today, with Tableau’s huge success and so many data analytics startups, we still see organizations struggle to turn information into insights for their every day decision makers.

Here is Zach’s post from November 2007:

 

“The last mile” is a term that often is applied in the telecom industry in reference to “the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer.” It is an expensive and complex step due to the challenge of pushing information from centralized, high capacity channels to many diverse end-points where information is ultimately used.

We think there is a “last mile” problem in business intelligence too. This critical bridge between data warehouses and communication of insights to decision-makers is often weak or missing. Your investments and meticulous efforts to create a central infrastructure can become worthless without effective delivery to end-users. “But how about my reporting interface?” you wonder. That’s a creaky and narrow bridge to rely on for the last mile of business intelligence.

Listening to our clients, we are confident the last mile is a real problem. The ultimate source of this failure is less clear. Here are a few of theories:

1. The engineers who built the data warehouse build the interface. No offense to the talented individuals who can push around, clean, normalize, and integrate data—but they may not be ideally suited to designing a user interface for non-technical users. A designer wouldn’t create charts that look like this (our favorite example of chart-based encryption):

In the worst case, developers are dismissive of user experience. I’ve met with IT folks who felt confident that providing a massive data table would provide a suitable solution for delivering information to users. “Hey, they’re getting their data. Is there a problem?”

2. Reporting is considered the fundamental mechanism for working with data. Here’s a framework we’ve started to consider in thinking through the multiple approaches for getting value from data:

  • Reporting lets you monitor things that are well-understood and relatively predictable.
  • Exporation or analysis helps you understand new processes and erratic and shifting behaviors.
  • Presentation is about communicating insights and understanding, often building on both reporting and analysis.

Many people assume that a reporting tool is sufficient to do in-depth analysis and communicate results. That’s like trying to build a deck with a screwdriver.

3. Poor fundamentals in information display. Despite the efforts of folks like Edward Tufte and Stephen Few, general literacy in this area is still low. Shiny, 3D pie charts are still acceptable, even desirable in some places. Particularly disturbing is the persistence and pervasiveness of this problem in Excel where there still remains some confusion as to why this is bad information display:

You don’t have to go any further than the Dashboard Spy to find examples of the visual muck that is commonplace.

How to Feel Better About Your Data Warehouse Fiasco

Here’s a little predictive analytics:

About a year ago, I took a swipe at the “$80 million supercomputer to analyze NYC student achievement.” It smelled more like a super sales job than a super useful analytical tool.

At the time I had said:

Teachers are underpaid, hardly appreciated, and overworked. I can only wonder what the half-life is of a system that asks teachers to log on to get information delivered by the “chief accountability officer.”

Well, it appears that things haven’t gone that smoothly with the supercomputer. Today, I received a link from Leonie Haimson, a NYC education advocate, to a story entitled SCHOOLS COMPUTER AN $80M ‘DISASTER’.

Not only has the supercomputer struggled to gain much traction with users (“The school system’s new $80 million computer super system to track student performance has been a super debacle, teachers and principals say”), it has coincided with severe budget cuts.

We see these data warehousing problems all the time with our clients, and the NYC supercomputer displays all the hallmarks:

  • Delivery delays: Nearly six months after the Department of Education unveiled the “first of its kind” data-management system, the city’s 80,000 teachers have yet to log on because of glitches and delays.

  • Bad user experience: Many principals have complained that it runs slowly, lacks vital information, and is often too frustrating to use.

  • Complicated training and set-up: School officials were hoping to have everyone hooked up and trained within months delays in creating IDs and passwords for teachers
  • Trying to do too much, delivering too little: The principal added that she preferred to get student information from a combination of old data systems “rather than wait for ARIS to churn and churn and churn and maybe give me half the report I need.”
  • Massive cost: Complaints about the expensive system—on which nearly $35 million has been spent so far—have gotten louder since the city unceremoniously chopped $100 million from individual school budgets last month.
  • And yet, few success anecdotes to justify the investment: ARIS had already enabled her data team to analyze the performance trends of the school’s many English-language learners.

It does offer one thing that I haven’t seen before: a Chief Accountability Officer.

Analytics Roundup: TIps for showing, sharing, communicating

Developer’s Guide - Google Chart API - Google Code
Beautiful stuff, particularly the Venn diagram.

Align Journal - BI Worst Practices
We often see articles on BI "Best Practices" here is an article telling us what NOT to do.

flot - Google Code
Attractive Javascript plotting for jQuery.

ongoing · On Communication
Interesting blog post about how different forms of communication rank for immediacy, lifespan, and audience reached.

The Excel Magician: 70+ Excel Tips and Shortcuts to help you make Excel Magic : Codswallop

SlideShare
Source for presentation ideas.