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Ease-of-use key to successful Business Intelligence deployments
15 Jun, 2011 - Lachlan James

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, Yellowfin is standing out from the Business Intelligence (BI) crowd. How? Ease-of-use; without compromise.


Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study

As previously noted in the latest Dresner Advisory Services (DAS) Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study, Yellowfin is already a world leader in BI usability, and the recent release of Yellowfin 5.2 strengthens that position. Check out the details here.

The global study ranked 16 of the world’s leading BI vendors on a five-point scale, across 32 criteria, based on: Sales experience, value, quality and usefulness of product, quality of technical support, quality and value of consulting services, and whether existing clients would recommend the vendor and its product to others.

As an overall score, Yellowfin outperformed Open Source and traditional big name vendors, and was one of only three vendors recommended by 100 percent of survey respondents.

The DAS report also scored Yellowfin particularly highly on product usability related criteria, including ease of administration, overall usability, ease of installation and third party integration.

But what makes this significant?

BI vendors, users and buyers take note: 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
  • Software as a Service (For more information on fast and easy cloud-based business analytics, check out SkyInsight – a joint Yellowfin and VectorWise solution)
  • 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 aims to change.


Yellowfin 5.2: Enhanced usability, without compromise

Yellowfin made its new release – Yellowfin 5.2: Making Business Intelligence even easier – generally available, Friday 10 June. And, surprise, surprise; the release is focused on making BI even easier. In addition to new analytical visualizations and enhanced scalability, the release includes a number of enhancements to directly boost Yellowfin’s renowned usability. For full details, check out the official release page.



Features and functionality in 5.2 directly relating to ease-of-use include:

New filter options
New filter options allow commonly used filters to be saved for specific reports and filter sets to be saved in a named list within a report. Filter sets applied to analytic dashboards can be saved for the length of a users’ session.

Filter changes will also make it easier and more intuitive to set-up analytic dashboards

Period filters and the ability to alter filter width are both included as options for power users (administrators)

Enhancements to the view
Changes to the view have made report building faster and more instinctive. The source connection of the view can be changed, and a new display allows users to see the table from which a view field originates.

Yellowfin 5.2 also allows users to convert values at the view level instead of the report level. Those values can then be applied to all subsequent reports, whereas before, the values had to be converted separately for each report. Filters can also be converted based on time zones to suit user locality.

The introduction of precautionary view features allows users to clearly see all fields that are set to secure. Users are also prevented from being able to accidentally delete fields that are in use.

Usage reports
The usability of the release is further enhanced with the inclusion of new out-of-the-box usage reports. These reports enable organizations and administrators to track the frequency with which individual reports are accessed, to determine both popular and redundant report types.

Enhancements to the report builder
At the report level, improvements to the report builder and sub query UI make it easier to create queries and sub-queries.

Reports are also easier to manage and build, with the ability to tag individual reports and search for them by their tag. In addition, a new search box allows report fields to be easily searched for in the report builder page.

Improved User Interface
The UI has also been restyled, for a modern, sleek appearance that reflects Yellowfin’s rise as a world-class new-age BI solution.


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?

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