The #1 Lesson BI Should Steal From Consumer Technology

The BI industry has seen a slow, shallow evolution over the last few decades. Sure, a few things have improved. But reporting today looks pretty similar to what it looked like in 1997.

What spreadsheets look like in the past.How spreadsheets look now.

In the consumer space, access to information has seen a radically different approach. How can access to enterprise information mimic this pattern of change?

Let’s start with an example. Remember MP3 players from the late ‘90s? They were great, but difficult to load songs onto, limited in capacity, and dependent upon complex interfaces. In other words: technically impressive, but not built with the user in mind.

Fast forward a few decades. Steve Jobs famously chose to disregard focus groups. He believed that consumers couldn’t tell you what they wanted. Not that they wouldn’t know it when they saw it -- in fact, he bet his company on that-- but they couldn’t tell him explicitly.

The result? The iPod, a music player that replaced them all. Apple took something that’s actually pretty complex for its time and made it simple with a focus on value over specifications, an emphasis on form as well as function.

A steve jobs quote.

Consider how this translates to the enterprise. We built information products -- not just reports, dashboards, and analytics products, but entire systems-- based on requirements. If Apple’s customers couldn’t tell Steve Jobs what they really wanted, why should yours?

We’re not suggesting that you should not talk to or listen to your customers. In fact, Apple was very successful in the brick and mortar retail space in doing just that. Instead, we’re suggesting that you should figure out what your customers need, not what they want.

Think about a layer cake. They’re actually really hard to make, but the end user (the consumer) only thinks about and wants a perfect cake.

User expectation vs. tech reality.

In a similar fashion, traditional technology is architected in a layered approach, especially within the data management space. For a BI solution, you'd typically buy a database, an ETL tool, a BI tool, and possibly an enterprise BI search tool, then integrate them all over a period of months.

IT expects to have to build this "layer cake" of technology, but doing that is a lot more complex than the "plug and play" story vendors tell.

On the other hand, end users don't see this complexity at all. Their view of the "cake" is simple--their vision is a simple-to-use, compelling solution that helps them get answers to their questions. Most systems today are technology-based--they focus on one layer of the solution.

There’s no question the technology we use to manage this data is complex, but we need to focus on the point of consumption-- making it easier for the user to get value from it. We need to build solutions with the consumer in mind-- what they want, how they want to use it, and how it fits in with their lives. It shouldn’t be the layers that are important, but the people using them to derive value.


2015 BI agility survey results.