Think UX Isn’t Crucial to Your BI Success? Think Again.

Jeff Hendrickson's picture
 By | maart 28, 2016
in bi, Business Intelligence, Data Visualization, user experience, user interface, UX, Business Analytics, Business Intelligence, Data Visualization
maart 28, 2016

First, Consider this BI Definition

Business Intelligence, or BI, is the practice of finding and using data to analyze a business, from quantitative measures like dollars and units, to qualitative measures like customer satisfaction. Modern business accomplishes this purpose by using technology that takes data and spits out charts, reports, dashboards, visualizations, etc.  Of course that’s grossly simplified, but you get the picture.
Forget for a moment that we haven’t yet defined what we want to do with this new intelligence but…  
Wait a second.  

How can we know what we’re looking for if we haven’t set a goal and defined how to use our newfound intelligence?  That’s kind of backwards, don't you think?

When teaching a visual strategy design class, I have discussed how good analytics and visualizations show what you didn’t know you didn’t know. You have no doubt heard that clever turn of phrase. I didn’t make it up, but it’s pertinent to BI success and it’s the perfect segue to UX.

So what’s this UX thing?

UX, or User Experience, is the discipline that should govern how every BI project is built. It’s a foundation, a methodology, and a framework for discovering our users’ needs and then crafting BI solutions that meet those needs. Consider this illustration where UX = User Experience, UI = User Interface, and DV = Data Visualization:


UX informs the essential elements of UI and DV. Where UI lies outside UX, it pertains to discretionary visual elements, such as color scheme and font choice, among others. The DV lives completely inside the UI and is the selection of charts, placed in the logical order called for in a Use Case, Journey Map, or Persona – all derived from the upfront UX research work.

UX is two distinct sets of project work that fit into an overall Visual Strategy: UX Research and UX Design.

  • UX Research
  • Interviews – from analysts to CEOs to IT
  • Data Discovery
  • Journey Mapping, Use Cases and Personas
  • Business objective: what do we have and how can it transform our business?
  • UX Design
  • What do we need in our applications to serve our goals?
  • How do we ensure that each user type is satisfied?
  • What is a logical progression from Point A to Point B?
  • What’s the best, most intuitive workflow?
  • What saves time and creates efficiency?
  • How many different ways do we provide a user to perform task XYZ?
  • How do we ensure that everyone “gets” it?
  • How do we incorporate micro-interactions and feedback for the user?
  • What security measures do we need to account for?

Creating a Strategy Document 

These often-informal documents are great roadmaps to help kick start a project.  A typical document will outline which users to interview, a timeframe for completion, vendor contacts, key stakeholders – both business and IT, and overall project goal, such as “We need system X to pull data from here and here, provide dashboards for upper management and deep-dive analytics capability to this group of analysts, and generate reports for all staff members.” As with an Agile project, the document should also list contingencies and possible blockers.

We’re creating the scope of a project and the rules of engagement.

The UX research will uncover all the pieces of the puzzle in writing this starter document. It will help you define action steps, whom to involve, and approximate time to completion. It will identify the location of required data and the questions you need to ask.

Defining questions is a huge part of this research process. I interviewed a top executive out west last year who, after two hours of discussion, said,  “you’ve pulled more out of me than anyone has before.” He concluded that he was thinking too linearly, and further remarked that he now had a better feeling for the data around him and how he could use it.

Those are the “AH-HA” moments we all look for.  Those are the win/win situations that propel us forward to the next insights.

Now We Begin UX Design

Now, with our document in hand – our roadmap, our blueprint – and hopefully with our team in place, we can begin the design work.  We will allow for further interview sessions but have enough to get a good start.

Look back at that Venn diagram and note that the UI circle lies largely inside the UX circle. Yeah, that’s because this overlap can’t be denied. While UI is mostly presentation layer, all info needed to do the associated design work comes from the UX research and design.

And We Talk About Workflows

All of this work circles back to this very important question:

Did we build the right solution for the right person in a way that serves the intended purpose in the best way possible?

In other words, did we do our research right, and did we then turn that research into a usable and useful product for our customer/user?

If our customer/user isn’t using the system, then we failed. If our user starts at A and wants to get to C, but has to go through B, D, E, F, and R first, then we failed. You think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it! I’ve seen workflows that involved printing a report, walking it to someone in another building, having that person print another report, hand it over, walk back, enter answers into another system, and on and on.

Users want to know these three things:

  1. Is it useful and relevant to me?
  2. Can I learn it quickly?
  3. Does it make my life easier?

I’ll wrap this up with a tasty morsel.

Experience is about expectations.

If you don’t fulfill the user’s expectations in your BI solution, then you need to tear it apart and rebuild it. A satisfied user is your reward, and starting every project with UX will get you there.

For more best practices in BI and analytics to meet your users' needs, sign up for our Innovation Sessions webcast series.