The UX of BI Analytics (Demos)

By | September 18, 2009

Lately, I have been researching BI (business intelligence) tools and watching all their demos.  Some of the demos were horrible and others great.  I learned alot about business intelligence space.  The tools are so open-ended.  In the right hands, with the right data, tools like this are ridiculously cool.  They can help you find real insight.  However, I have this feeling that 95% of all BI users do not have the right data and do not have the right mind-set to use the tools.  I think that the vast majority of the capabilities are wasted and that most people use these tools in the most bureaucratic sense.

When I was at Intuit, the marketing managers would show these slides that would show year over year charts of how we were doing.  However, they could never answer the key questions:  Why did this happen?  How can we make more money?  What does this REALLY mean? The problem is that their data was incomplete and the questions they were asking were pedestrian.

It was the worst of all worlds.  They spent tons of time and got little or no value.  BI Tools are awesome but I think they get mis-used most of the time.

Take this with a grain of salt considering that I am not an analytics expert like Avinash Kaushik.  Buy his book to learn about analytics.  However, I believe that UX principles can help in the use of these tools.  How do you “design” the questions you ask your data?  Part of what you want is to understand “reality”.  So often people make assumptions about the world, and analytics can tell you if these assumptions and reality jive.  I think you can try and predict what will happen using these tools, but that leads me to questions about Local Max Island.  You can only predict what will happen if you don’t change anything radically.

It’s not formed yet, but I want to develop a philosophy of how to use these kinds of tools using UX, revolutionize-the-world, kick-ass principles.  I’ll keep pondering on this idea.

In the meantime, here are some of the demos I looked at and some thoughts.

Tableau Software – Let’s start with my favorite.  45 min. Right away, the product looks really cool.  The guys voice is a little “ShamWOW“, but the actual things he is doing got the hook into me right away.  The application is gorgeous.  Mostly, I am referring to the information architecture and interaction design.  Compared to the others, this was a standout.  I actually sat through the whole 45 minutes and never got annoyed.  My only critique would be to try and limit the buzz word talk like “instantaneously, in real time, visualizations with artificial intelligence!”  Smart move to let me download the video file.

Pentaho – It’s pronounced Pen-TAH-ho, although I keep saying PENTA-ho.  The demo of the main product doesn’t exist (I think).  It’s a login to a demo account with a dummy data base.  The second link in the list has a streaming flash movie, so I watched that.  (12 min).  Literally, it’s a slideshow until minute 6.  Big mistake.  Better to jump right to the product.  Plus, the product is zoomed so far away, I can’t really see what is happening.  Lower the resolution of the presentation machine.  Something also was wrong with the sound.  I am wearing headphones and I immediately felt a strange throbbing happening in my head.  I have no idea what happened, but I had to shut off the demo about 80% through.

JasperSoft – 4 min.  The demo wasn’t very dynamic.  It sorta went quickly without going into any details, although I guess this is the “at a glance” version. They used this technique where they clicked a little and then it looked like the page turns and they change subjects.   The demo had a little menu on the right that you could use to jump around the product.  Overall, looking at the demo, I was unenthusiastic.  The product looked really plain.

Microsoft BI Suite –  You need Silverlight to watch it.  The video was really bizarre.  Not too much product shown.  Mostly it was weird videos of people with fuzzy backgrounds.  I hated it.  They obviously spent a fortune on it.  My advice, have more video of the actual product.

Talend – Funny music in the background.  Sort of Danny Elfman meets Musak.  This was something that goes in Eclipse. (A programming tool).  Clearly, this was over my head.  I thought they put way too many buttons in way too many places.  The flow chart didn’t make it easy.  Wow, the woman is talking fast.  Holy crap, slow down, slow down!  Maybe a programmer would like this.

Cloud9 Analytics – I had a bunch of trouble with the demo.  The sound kept stopping.  The window was tiny, but looked right if you view in full screen.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the sound to play without stopping every 5 seconds.  Not sure what the problem was.

Birst – Hah, the guys voice is funny.  Sort of sounds like Monty Python. Usually British accents (or Australian) make the demo great.  This is one of those times that it just doesn’t work.  Maybe an English woman would be better.  The controls on the demo were tiny.  I clicked the full screen mode, but it looked wrong.  This seems to be a common problem.  Make sure you choose the right technology to stream your video.  I really wonder why people don’t just use YouTube.  It’s easy and always works.

Pivotlink – The music is interesting.  Ahh, British woman’s voice.  Nice.  Product looks interesting, although it seems somewhat minimalistic.  Most of the screen is white.  One really odd thing is that the bottom of the demo has this green-black candy-cane animation just flying back and forth.  It’s really distracting.  Again, I think YouTube would be a better choice.  No full screen mode.  The UI is a little too small to see.  Why optimize these for 800×600, why not go for 1024?  Who has 800×600 anymore?

There were some others.  I don’t mean this to be a comment on their actual products.  More of a critique on their demo styles.  All around, vastly interesting stuff.

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