Sunday, 2 September 2012

Four steps towards bringing business intelligence to the masses

I've been working on a project with a couple of friends to bring data analysis to a broader audience. There are many Business Intelligence (BI) tools that target large businesses and require a major investment in time, money and internal resources. Surely the power of BI doesn’t need to be limited to that context! There are literally millions of people who have data that they want to summarize and visualize in ways beyond Excel’s ability, but who don’t have the IT skills required by the BI tools we are used to. But how could the functionality of the big BI vendors be made available in an appropriate format for the rest of the world – for the average individual, community organisation, church, sports club, or small business?
  1. You’d need to keep it cheap and simple. 
  2. Host the system in the cloud so that the users don’t have the hassle of maintaining IT infrastructure or managing software. 
  3. Start with what people know. They already know about tables of numbers and graphs – though perhaps with a confused understanding of what chart type to use when. There’s a good chance they already know about the use of color-coding to distinguish between good and bad values. Thanks to Facebook they already know about online conversations. So build the simplest tool that allows them to apply that knowledge to their existing data sets. 
  4. Lead people forward over time. Build additional features into that framework so that users can easily learn as they go and gradually take advantage of more advanced types of analysis. 
The initial reaction to the release of OTUS Analytics Dashboards shows that this approach is gaining traction. All sorts of people are trying out the hosted dashboard functionality of OTUS Analytics. They can securely upload data and very quickly layout dashboards to their own design. The dashboards can display any assortment of tables, charts, color-coded performance indicators and explanatory text. It's easy to create scorecards and strategy maps. Groups of users can view the same dashboards and discuss what they see.

Being a hosted system, features can easily be added over time without requiring users to perform any upgrade re-installations. We’ve recently extended the range of chart types, added heat maps, and will soon introduce gauges.

Let me know if you'd like more info.

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