One of the hallmarks of data-driven business is broad access to data—and the analytical tools necessary to turn that data into information, knowledge, and high-quality decision-making. But while management is raising expectations of employees at every level of the organization, employees, in turn, are raising their expectations of their tools, bouncing the problem upstairs once again: managers need to procure better software. Business users expect a richer experience in modern applications when it comes to how they interact with data.
These expectations are fueled by the consumerization of business apps—previously, apps were selected by IT and users were given access to them. This was not a democratic process. Today, business users expect more: a level of polish and design previously reserved for consumer applications, the ability to drill down for more detail, and the flexibility to modify reporting to answer their own questions.
Look and feel
Users expect a great look and feel, and a modern experience from their apps, whether internal or external. With so much data access occurring in the browser, users are inevitably (if sometimes unconsciously) comparing the visualizations and analyses in their retirement accounts (for example) to the best interactive data journalism. The leveling effect of the Web means that just about everyone has used high-quality data interfaces (while not seeing the cost). Long story short, there shouldn’t be a manual for how the tools on your dashboards work; they should just work.
Whether it’s internal sales data, personal finance, or any other kind of data, users are often looking for outliers—and then asking why they are outliers. “Why did this fund in my account underperform (or outperform) the others?” The ability to drill into any objects to get more detail is a vital tool, and, again, one that consumers expect because they see it elsewhere.
Most importantly: users should be able to customize dashboards, morph to other visualizations, or create their own from scratch. We expect users to take an ownership role with regard to their jobs, and they, in turn, expect the ability to formulate new types of reports and visualizations to test and then monitor the factors they’ve discovered. This last requirement is often the hardest one for software vendors to solve; they start down the path of simple charting libraries, but then realize that the amount of effort to build these requirements from scratch is monumental. As with so much else, navigating the build-or-buy decision requires sensitivity to needs and an empathic capacity for the abilities of your users. Not only must you set yourself a high floor—understandable, insightful, and eye-catching defaults—but also take off the ceiling: let your users run free and find the unexpected.
When you build an interactive data tool on the Web, you are competing for your users’ attention with every other interactive data tool on the Web. Embedded analytics tools and frameworks give everyone a common ground to stand on—and take away excuses for why you haven’t.