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Executive Summary

Ease of Use and Interface Appeal in Business Intelligence Tools

By Cindi Howson

Just as the eyes are the window to the soul, business intelligence (BI) tools are the window to the data that helps business users identify new opportunities and make fact-based decisions. Despite the critical role that BI tools provide, adoption remains low and BI tools are considered difficult to use, with largely unappealing interfaces.

Assessing a BI tool’s ease of use is difficult because it is influenced by subjective factors. However, the importance of ease of use — rated even higher than specific tool capabilities and analytic power — makes it a critical aspect to address in making BI more pervasive and with bigger business impact. Each group of potential BI users — whether power users who work with data for most of the day, or casual users who only have a short time to glance at information — brings their own set of experiences and expectations to a BI tool. Customers and vendors alike need to consider these differences so they can improve ease of use, leveraging whichever innovation is appropriate for a particular type of application and user segment.

Currently, BI tools are rated as some of the most difficult to use relative to a variety of technologies including Google, email, and Excel. Power users rate BI tools as more difficult than casual users. Companies that described their predominant BI tool as very easy to use had a much higher BI adoption rate than those who described their BI tool as only somewhat easy or difficult.

An appealing interface provides a powerful first impression, particularly when trying to embrace new users. The way a product looks and works influences how pleasant and effective it is to continue using a particular BI tool. With BI, a cumbersome interface and workflow competes with other ways of working, whether gut feel decision making or asking the expert. If someone doesn’t have to absolutely get to the data to do his or her job, an unappealing interface can be a barrier to continued use. In considering various interfaces within a BI platform, the authoring interface is rated the least appealing. Dashboard interfaces rated the most appealing, but still leave room for improvement.

In trying to address ease of use and interface appeal, vendors have introduced a number of innovations such as BI’s integration with Microsoft Office, in particular Excel, Adobe Flash animation, and BI search. Of these innovations, Microsoft Office integration is the most widely adopted. Lackluster adoption for other innovations is mainly because customers have not purchased the option.

Despite claims that BI tools should be easy enough to use so that training is not required, most people want some training, at least half a day. Even if the BI tool is easy to use, understanding the data requires time and explanation. A bigger issue is in the gap in the amount of training people feel they should have and what they actually get. People who think their job requires a day or two of formal training are generally getting that training. However, BI experts and managers who say half a day of training should be required are not receiving any formal training.

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