Ease-of-use Key to Successful Business Intelligence Deployments

June 15, 2011
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We’ve all done it – shot them a fleeting glance from the corner of our eye, then stared uncontrollably as they breeze past, parting the minglers, leaving a swell of murmurs and envious looks in their wake.  

And, just like the ‘it’ girl at a party, or the success story at the ten year reunion, new-age consumer-oriented Business Intelligence (BI) products are standing out from the BI crowd.  How?  Ease-of-use; without compromise.

We’ve all done it – shot them a fleeting glance from the corner of our eye, then stared uncontrollably as they breeze past, parting the minglers, leaving a swell of murmurs and envious looks in their wake.  

And, just like the ‘it’ girl at a party, or the success story at the ten year reunion, new-age consumer-oriented Business Intelligence (BI) products are standing out from the BI crowd.  How?  Ease-of-use; without compromise.

But what makes this significant?

Recent research has revealed that ease-of-use is now the most important aspect of a BI solution.  Both current and prospective clients/BI users rate product usability as the most important factor for the ongoing success of their BI implementations, and, when selecting a BI solution.

Gartner says Business Intelligence ease-of-use number one criteria

In the fall-out from Gartner’s 2011 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence Platforms study, which ranked vendors products and services, ‘ease-of-use’ surpassed ‘functionality’ for the first time as the most important selection criteria when purchasing a BI platform.  The associated Gartner Research Note, BI Platforms User Survey, 2011: Customers Rate their BI Platform Functionality, stated that: “Strong functionality is clearly no longer enough… Vocal, demanding and influential business users are increasingly driving BI purchasing decisions, most often choosing easier to use data discovery tools over traditional BI platforms — with or without IT’s consent.”

BeyeNETWORK on Business Intelligence Ease-of-Use

These findings cement results garnered from the BeyeNETWORK’s 2010 research report, Ease of Use and Interface Appeal in Business Intelligence Tools, which revealed ease-of-use as a growingly important factor for businesses looking to implement, and who already have, a BI solution.  Survey participants rated ease-of-use as more important than features or analytic power, with 47 percent rating ease-of-use as ‘very important’, while 32 percent said that it was ‘essential’.  

The study also directly links BI adoption to ease-of-use and therefore BI Return on Investment (ROI).  Organizations that described their BI solution as ‘very easy-to-use’ enjoyed significantly higher user adoption rates than those who described their BI tool as ‘somewhat easy’ or ‘difficult’ to use.  Survey results showed that 35 percent of employees use BI in organizations that list their BI software as ‘very easy to use’, compared to an average of 27 per cent, and 22 per cent for those listing their BI tool as ‘very difficult’ to use.

The report posits that the Holly Grail of BI – widespread user-adoption – has been continually hindered, and hence BI ROI, by the complexity of traditional BI products.  Detailing the responses of 255 survey respondents, the study then outlines the features and functions that end-users find critical when it comes to BI usability, and adoption.

Defining BI ease-of-use

The report defined a BI solution as being easy-to-use when it “works as expected and is similar to another tool with which a user has experience” (such as a Web-browser), and “is intuitive and obvious in how a task can best be performed.”

Improving ease-of-use

The report makes it clear that there is no singular answer, cure or criteria for addressing and solving the BI ease-of-use conundrum, stating that relevant factors are subjective, and differ according a range of factors, including type of user and how the software is utilized (types of reports, industry, etc).

Ease-of-use a factor for IT and business users

The report makes the summation that ease-of-use and ‘interface appeal’ are the two elements most critical for ensuring BI adoption beyond power users.  However, the results indicated that it’s not merely report consumes and casual business users who are demanding easy-to-use BI and visually appealing BI tools, but IT users and administrators as well.

User Interface appeal

Interestingly, an appealing interface was found to be an important factor for both IT and business users when evaluating product usability, and for supporting sustained user adoption.

Beware: Training is a must

The report also found that, irrelevant of job function or if respondents found their current BI tool easy-to-use, survey participants across the board (81 percent) said that formal training was an important factor in perceived BI ease-of-use and sustained adoption.  The report concluded that formal training, and the expectations surrounding formal training, directly affected “a user’s perception toward BI’s ease and usefulness” and said that training should be varied according to user type and job role. 

IT users

The study found that widely agreed upon factors for making BI easier for the IT department to manage and maintain include:

  • Web-based deployments
  • In-memory analytics
  • The ability to automate regular activities
  • Ability to combine data from different data sources
  • Ease of deployment
  • The ability to easily scale to meet changing reporting needs
  • The ability to easily answer ad-hoc queries to allow IT to do more with less and “deliver more BI and better serve the business”
  • Ease of dashboard and report creation

Business users

The study also found several widely agreed upon factors for making BI easier for business users to consume and utilize effectively.  These ease-of-use aspects include: 

  • Reducing the number of clicks it takes for business users to reach desired results/insights
  • Easy to consume and understand BI content
  • The ability to easily and quickly derive actionable business insights from the data presented in reports
  • The ability to automate regular activities
  • The ability to personalize settings, functions and features

Animated data visualizations

Animated data visualizations were listed as a key criterion capable of enticing user take-up and enabling/improving the ability to glean better business insights from data analysis.  The report also took the pragmatic view that “Anything to improve how engaging and appealing users perceive BI removes a barrier to initial use.”  Whilst this is obviously true, complex data visualizations were also noted to be a doubled-edged sword: “While animation in reports and dashboards can improve appeal and insight, too much animation and superfluous animation can have negative consequences… with these concerns in mind, animation should be more widely adopted, but as this aspect of BI gains traction, best practices for effective use of animation in BI should be developed.”  Stephen Arnold in his article – Ease of Use: A Barrier to Business Intelligence Adoption – toes a similar line in relation to fancy User Interfaces (UI) and data visualizations, asserting that “Eye candy may not have the caloric value needed.  I prefer a system that combines both rigor and ease of use.”  

For more on data visualization best practices, check out our blog posts Data analysis & data visualization best practices for Business Intelligence (P1) and Business Intelligence: Intuitive vs cool data visualization and infographics.  Also, look out for our data visualization best practices guide, coming soon.

So why ease of use?

So why does this BeyeNETWORK report deduce that an easy-to-use BI solution is ideal?  Because it “allows customers to devote more attention to understanding the data versus learning the tool.”  We couldn’t agree more.

However, only 23 per cent of total survey respondents said that their organization’s BI tool was easy to learn and use.  It’s figures like this, that Yellowfin and other new-age BI vendors aim to change.

Conclusion

Ease-of-use is now the number one BI selection criteria.  And with the continued consumerization of BI, its importance will only grow.  So keep it top-of-mind and top of your list when purchasing BI software.

Already have a BI implementation?  Then answer this.

If put in a soundproof booth and guaranteed confidentiality, how would everyone at your company rate the usability of your current BI tool?