Over the past few months we’ve heard numerous stories, like the SEO reporting example highlighted here, where organizations are losing customers or renewals are in jeopardy because of poor reporting. It hasn’t been specific to one industry either. We’ve heard this story in healthcare services, software maintenance renewals, ad agencies, etc.
What we’ve noticed as a common thread across these cases is that reporting is viewed as a compliance activity or requirement, not an opportunity to connect with customers. Reporting or the sharing of insights, is rarely thought of as a means of educating customers, sharing expertise or part of the overall customer experience.
While there are many opportunities to build customer loyalty using data, i.e. using predictive analytics, to personalize offerings, we’ve created a short, no registration, e-book, Building Customer Loyalty Through Great Reporting, to articulate how a valuable Information ExperienceTM can enhance the overall customer experience you deliver and round out all your touch points.
The e-book is an easy late night Kindle read or lunch time scan. Please check it out and let us know what you think about the relationship between reporting and your customer experience. You can download it by clicking here.
The one-page dashboard is a relic. Its form makes little sense in an era of touch screens, on-demand data, and interfaces crafted for interaction and user experience. It is the single purpose, brick-sized mobile phone compared to your smart phone.
One-page dashboards came from the best of intentions (not all of them, but critique of poorly-designed dashboards is besides the point). The notion was to provide an audience with a single view that showed all the key information together. In this way, the viewer could monitor important data and see where performance was good or bad, all at a glance with the necessary context.
A lot has changed since this type of dashboard was considered the peak of dashboard design (no offense to Jason Lockwood who did a great job within the confines of this exercise):
The admirable use of color and layout cannot overcome the misguided one-page constraint and disconnect from the needs of the viewer.
Can I see all the important information at a glance? While there is a lot of information, not all the useful detail finds a place (axis scales, for one thing). Worse, the volume of information shown is difficult to absorb with the exception of the person who is experienced with the data.
Can you quickly spot the issue areas? The red dots are a start. But they skim the surface of the concerns that could be highlighted. And what if my definition of “concerns” changed based on the viewer's perspective? Furthermore, the viewer gets no guidance as to why certain items are highlighted and what they might do about it.
There is a broken assumption for one-page “monitoring” dashboards: they assume that seeing a problem (with whatever data can be fit on the page) is enough for the viewer. It seldom is. Any viewer with a passing interest will (or should) want to know more, drill deeper, and ask “why?”. A dashboard must not pass on this inherent responsibility to help the viewer. Identifying problems isn’t enough. A good dashboard attempts to help solve those problems.
Jerome Cukier describes the goal of purpose of dashboards: “It’s about putting the needs of your users first...What is something that your users would try to accomplish that could be supported by data and insights?”
The one-page dashboard is “a man without a country.” It tries to do too much for an executive who would much rather get an alert for the two problem areas...or at least more guidance about the meaning and relevance of what they are seeing. For someone who wants to engage more deeply with the data, the one-pager offers far too little. If done well, it only starts the conversation.
Changes in technology also undermine the premise of single-page dashboards. Trends in how we interact with information also makes this information design form a thing of the past:
The scrolling myth. A decade ago, asking users to scroll was nearly a sin. That’s no longer the case. Touch screens, mouse-scroll wheels, and gestures have made it easy and natural to move vertically on a screen. These interaction models have elongated what user experience designers consider a single screen. Many modern marketing sites are entirely navigated through vertical scrolling. Scrolling acts as a form of guided gradual reveal.
The power of dynamic interfaces. It was once a fair assumption that a dashboard would be a static snapshot of data, lacking the ability for users to interact with the content. Excel was the tool of choice and it took advanced Excel skills to make it interactive. Today there are dozens of dashboard building tools, many of which offer features for connecting key metrics to details that help explain reasons behind changes or outliers.
The limits of attention. The information age has morphed into the (limited) attention age. Mobile apps, smart watches, and voice-activated interfaces recognize the need to deliver only the most critical information at the right time, and let the user ask for more. The person provides context and desires; the computer provides notifications and answers. This new model of information exchange is entirely at odds with the one-page dashboard. It is unreasonable and suboptimal to expect someone to stare deeply into the densely packed digits and sparklines of a one-page dashboard. There are better ways.
The goals of the one-page dashboard remain: How to show viewers the big picture and understand it in context? How to encourage people to connect the dots across different data points? Modern interfaces have brought us better means to these ends.
No longer is there any meaningful distinction between dashboards to monitor and dashboards to understand. Monitoring highlights problems — and should flow seamlessly into analysis of root cause. The best dashboards do even more: they guide viewers to details that are actionable, tell viewers what actions can be taken, and enable discussions between colleagues. All this doesn’t happen in a single page.
In case you missed it, Information Week recently released a report that listed, among other things, the "top 10 roadblocks to BI success" (skip to page 48 for the list). So, does anyone want to guess what IW found the top barrier to be?
As it turns out, it wasn’t "data throughput", or "access to data sources/more data", or even "more features". The number one barrier to BI success, according to IW, is (get this) "Complexity of BI tools and Interfaces". That’s right, it’s not technology, but usability that keeps people from getting value from BI solutions. People actually want software that’s easier to use, not harder.
In our eyes, this is just another example that the BI industry isn’t being constrained by the technology. We don’t need more tools, or even more features. The problem isn’t going to be solved by technology. What we need are solutions that, for people who depend on information, make it easier to see, understand, and use the information that really matters. What we need are solutions that are designed for a purpose, that transform data into easy to understand information, and that are beautifully usable.
When people contact us at Juice, they sometimes don’t have a complete picture of what we do. Our obsession with finding better ways to communicate information is obvious, but how it adds up to something relevant to their business isn’t always as clear.
The answer: We design, prototype, and develop great Information Experiences™.
Information Experience™ is our way of describing the intersection between user experience and information-intensive applications, where success is how effectively a user can consume, understand, and apply that information.
Like sitting behind the wheel of a BMW or my two-year-old flipping through photos on an iPhone, great Information Experiences have less to do with features and more to do with an intimate connection between human and device. Great information experiences tell stories where data is the primary medium for communication. The information appears when it is needed and the device or application seems to anticipate the next question or action. These are the objectives that we apply to the solutions we design and build.
Designing Information Experiences spans from the highest architectural model of a system to the specific details of user/interface interaction and data visualization. Across these levels, we consider four objectives:
1. Support the achievement of organizational objectives. How can the information experience fit into users’ existing decision-making and work processes? How can we influence decision-making with the right information at the right time?
2. Direct the user to likely actions in order to “get it done”. What are the important questions a user is trying to answer or tasks the user wants to accomplish? How can the application make it as easy and intuitive as possible to get to results? Does the navigation and user flow feel like an extension of users’ thought process?
3. Present only the information that needs to be seen. For any given view of data and situational context, what is the most critical information to share with the user? How can information be progressively revealed to give the user what they need to know at any given time?
4. Present the information in a way that produces understanding and action. For any given data and situational context, what is the most effective information visualization? What are the best ways to present information given users’ experience and sophistication with interpreting information? What is the appropriate level of detail to be displayed given the context and user needs?
When we talk about the social rather than technical challenges of Business Intelligence, it is motivated by the belief that too many vendors are more comfortable tackling technical details rather than evaluating how users can interact and gain value from information. Which is to say: design better Information Experiences.
That’s what we do here at Juice. And we have people skills! We are good at dealing with people! Can’t you people understand that!