Over the past 20 years or so, when it comes to deciding the best way to ensure business people have fingertip access to the information they need to make decisions, the pendulum has swung repeatedly between 2 extremes.
On the one hand, you have what you might call do-it-yourself, self-service BI and, on the one hand, centrally produced reports and dashboards. And, whilst the technology has moved on and undoubtedly improved, still neither approach has been successful in reaching the full, diverse set of decision makers within our organizations.
At Antivia, we have seen first-hand, through the success of our customers, that information applications offer a happy medium between these 2 extremes and can satisfy the needs of the majority of business users within our organizations.
However, first, a little background…
Traditional reports and dashboards prove too simplistic
Traditional reports and dashboards are usually created by the IT team and then shared with business users. They have the virtue of being easy to use, so people didn’t have to take time out to go on a training course to get up to speed with them. However, the reality is that delivering information in this way is too simplistic for most people’s needs. These reports and dashboards are too one dimensional and do not provide enough detail, so they end up spawning more questions than they answer.
This results in a large volume of new report requests into IT from business users. These requests build up over time into a reporting backlog. This reporting backlog causes frustration all round. IT feels overworked and overwhelmed. Business people feel they are waiting too long for the information they need, forcing them to make decisions based on gut feel in the absence of any useful data.
The do-it-yourself approach is too hard for most business users
It is often against this background that organizations decide that things must change. The answer, they decide, is to empower business people to answer their own questions by providing them with a BI tool, some training and access to the underlying data. This way they won’t be reliant on IT to provide answers to their follow-up questions and, at the same time, the organization can eliminate its reporting backlog.
However, whilst this theory is great, the reality is somewhat different.
When we stop to think about the different types of people who inhabit the different areas of our organizations, it’s clear that most have day jobs which aren’t focused on data analysis – they are supposed to be out selling, or answering customer enquiries, or doing one of the myriad of other roles that helps an organization to run smoothly on a day to day basis.
So, after these people have been trained in how to use their new BI tool, they get back to their day jobs of running the business and by the time they get round to picking up the tool again, most of their training has been forgotten. The result is that only a few people ever end up mastering and regularly using the tool and everyone else relies on this small group to produce information for them. So, before long we’ve fallen back into the traditional reports and dashboards model that we tried to escape and the reporting backlog starts to grown once more.
Information applications offer a happy medium
To break out of this cycle, we need a different approach to addressing the information needs of our business users. For most people, that different approach is providing them with an information application.
Information applications offer a middle ground. They have the depth to provide answers to multiple business questions, which avoids the need to go back to IT or to a power-user … eliminating the reporting backlog. At the same time, they provide an interface that fits the flow of the business and speaks the user’s language. This way, a business user can pick-up and use their information app without training – just as they can with a consumer app.
This results in high adoption and ensures business people have the information they need, when they need it.
However, there are other factors to consider when looking for tools to help you create information apps:
- With business requirements changing rapidly, you need to select a tool that offers a fast time to value. This means a tool that enables you to create information apps without coding, so you are not reliant on scarce development resources. Ideally, you want a tool that both power-users in the business (e.g. the go to people for Excel) and the BI team can use
- To satisfy the needs of your remote workers, you need a tool that can provide them with fast access to their information with full interactivity even when they are out and about with no network connection. So, you need a tool with a rich set of offline capabilities.
This is a model for 21st century BI success and it is based on giving the right tools to the right people.
To see this in action, watch this 2-minute video of DecisionPoint.