The period of staggering technology advancement in the 2010s changed everything. In a single decade, social media, search, smartphones, 4G, Cloud computing, AI and big data, and user interface design sped through ‘hype cycles’ and went mainstream. These technologies profoundly altered people’s expectations of software’s UX, speed, reliability, and personalisation.
Prior to that decade, enterprise software and transformation programmes had gained an image problem. That was largely because ‘Transformation’ had become a euphemism for asking employees to change the way they worked to adapt to expensive, large-scale enterprise software rollouts. The Boomers and Gen-Xers who dominated the workforce rarely adopted these systems to the extent that their organisations hoped – in most cases it was ‘just enough’.
I’m in no way blaming big enterprise software companies for designing systems the way they did. The vision was inspiring and paved the way for a whole B2B software industry. But the technology ecosystem simply wasn’t mature enough at the time to enable vendors to deliver on big promises. Promises such as ‘ease of use’, ‘self-service’ and ‘seamless integration’. That’s why expensive consultants were so often brought in to fill in the gaps with custom development.
Old school transformation was particularly difficult in the analytics and BI (ABI) space. Expecting time-poor business users to extract and analyse data themselves proved an uphill battle. Not only did users need to get data literate (mean vs median anyone?). They also needed to learn a whole field of specialist database concepts, including a scripting language. Senior executives could lean on data or IT experts, though it could take days or weeks to get one report. For a decade, organisations resigned themselves to really low ABI adoption rates of around 20 percent (Source: Gartner).
Digital Transformation – the right way round!
In 2020 millennials are the dominant workplace demographic. Furthermore, millennials most certainly aren’t going to adapt the way they work to meet the needs of software. They grew up using Google, Amazon, Uber and Netflix whose user experiences (UXs) grows smarter and more personal with use. In our current age of ‘hyper-personalisation’ the idea that users ‘transform’ to meet the needs of software is pretty unthinkable. Hence, we now talk about ‘Digital Transformation’ that is the right way round – adapting software to meet the needs of users.
“Netflix for Analytics and BI”
In the age of COVID-19, one consumer application that many of us have come to know very well is Netflix. It also happens to be the inspiration for our intelligent enterprise portal’s user interface. We were inspired by three aspects of Netflix’s UX:
Easy onboarding process: – There’s no point in investing huge resources on a great UX if people fall at the very first hurdle. Netflix makes it incredibly easy and risk-free for new customers to sign up and get started.
‘Swim lanes’ and previews: – Relevant movie titles are pushed out to customers in a swim lane format so they’re easy for users to find without having to search. A poor and sometimes off-putting experience with a telly remote. Also, previews play as you’re hovering over them so you can get a taste of the movie before you decide to watch.
AI-driven personalisation / recommendation engine: – Behind the swim lanes, a sophisticated AI engine that gets smarter over time drives personalised recommendations in each category based on customers’ stated preferences and watch histories.
One might rightly wonder how a movie app could possibly inspire an ABI portal interface. However, there are more similarities between the two than you might imagine. Fundamentally, the users of both are searching for content from massive data stores. In some cases, they know what they’re looking for but more often they don’t.
The long tail of enterprise reports
When it comes to reports, most organisations have a very ‘long tail.’ There will be a few popular reports that everyone knows about and uses. In addition to the hundreds or thousands of reports that were created bespoke and only used once. The same is true of Netflix content. Everyone knows that The Crown season 4 is out. However, how many know about the brilliant French Oscar-nominated animated film ‘My Life as a Zucchini’?
Okay, you might ask. How could an ABI portal experience possibly compare to the ‘Because you watched…’ personalised recommendations on Netflix? It’s actually much more comparable than you think. If you’re a procurement manager that regularly access reports on travel expenses by department. You might very well like to know about a monthly report that identifies the ten employees in your company that spend the most on air travel.
But surely there can’t be so many ABI tools, dashboards and reports out there that you need a Netflix interface to surface what you need, right? Wrong! First, the average enterprise according to Gartner has 3.8 different ABI tools, though in our experience it’s often much higher. One of our customers has 17 and this is surprisingly typical. There are so many reasons for this. Change of IT leadership, mergers and acquisitions, the simple fact that no one ABI tool out there fits all needs. Also, it’s not just ABI tools that provide analytics. Many of the popular business software like Salesforce includes embedded analytics that users want to access.
Add to this the problem of what our partner ThoughtSpot calls “the report factory”. Due to the limited success of ABI self-service, many business users request custom reports every time they need a data answer, a dashboard, or a report. These reports often get used once and never accessed again. It is not unusual for a company to have thousands of such reports, representing hundreds of thousands of lost analyst hours.
Unlocking the door to ABI through a better UX drives digital transformation:
The ‘Netflix for ABI’ experience unlocks access to reports from all ABI and content systems. When users log in to Digital Hive, they are immediately presented with reports, dashboards, and content that’s relevant to their roles and access privileges. This is content that data and domain experts may have spent hours or days labouring over already, but only for the benefit of one person or team. And just like with Netflix, reports are displayed in a dynamic swimlane view, giving users a ‘preview’ of the report so they can decide if they want to execute it.
Over time, like Netflix, the portal’s machine learning gathers more intelligence about each user’s role, including the types of reports they value most. As it gets smarter, it recommends increasingly relevant and popular reports, dashboards, data searches and content. Surfacing hidden, long-forgotten reports not only gives business users a highly personalised experience, but it can free up thousands of precious data and IT hours every year. Again, like with Netflix, greater personalisation means users spend less time endlessly searching for content they really need. In business that translates into better, faster, more profitable decision-making. Finally, with millennials now dominating the workforce, serving up analytics and content in a fast, personal, ‘consumer’ experience is much likely to engage and meet expectations.
Most importantly, however, by adapting the ABI software experience to meet the needs of today’s users, Digital Transformation finally becomes possible. Visit our new website on https://digitalhive.com/ to learn more.
Digital Hive is a US-based software company that provides an intelligent enterprise portal, surfacing and recommending analytics in a personalized experience. By providing a single, shared organisational view, federated search across tools, and custom branding, Digital Hive helps drive analytics adoption, improve data literacy, and deliver data stories for better decision-making and business performance. A 2020 Gartner ‘Cool Vendor,’ Digital Hive is for most organisations that run multiple analytics and BI tools including customers like Clarity, DFS, Highmark, Froneri, Pomona College, and University of Denver.