The Road to Visual Data Discovery: Intuition and the User Experience

Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 07:00

In our previous Blog, we’ve discussed how organizations are shifting away from centrally controlled analytic semantics towards user-defined semantics, as part of the rise of Enterprise Analytics.  Enterprise Analytics is enabling analysts and business users to use flexible self-service platforms and techniques within a centralized data management structure. Gone are the days of “EDW or the highway”. Governed data discovery is the way forward.

This shift from Enterprise BI to Enterprise Analytics is supported by the advancement of technology and its infusion in our daily life. Continually improving advances in computer graphics design on every device have yielded more complete digital experiences that are easier to use.

We feel comfortable reaching out for new data sets to answer questions about our own fitness, energy usage, or travel efficiency. We interact with our data not only because it’s available to us, but also because it is simple to consume.

In this Blog, we’ll discuss how these dramatic changes in User Experiences are changing the way organizations are performing business analytics.

Intuitive User Interfaces

Intuitive user interfaces are essential in our tech-savvy society. Apps don’t come with a how-to manual. Users must be able to figure out what to do on their own with simple prompts, iconic buttons, and convenient features.

These design principles are not limited to apps and mobile mediums. Even if the technology is not primarily a mobile platform, UI simplification provides a smoother user experience because of the conventions developed for mobile environments. Three stacked bars? That’s the menu. A magnifying glass? That’s the search feature. Intuition comes from experience [1].

UX is simplified and streamlined with mobile-inspired interfaces. Even IBM is attempting to keep this in mind in its latest iteration of Cognos. Ventana Research provided this analysis:

The Report Studio and Cognos Workspace Advanced modules have been replaced with a simplified Web-based modeling environment. The extended capabilities of IBM Cognos 10.2.2 are still available, but now ….an intimidating display of tools with which to do tasks such as fine-grain manipulation of reports...are hidden but still easily accessible. If a user is having difficulty finding a particular function, a “smart search” feature helps to find the correct menu to add it [2]. (emphasis added) [3]

IBM is attempting to reduce their clutter of long toolbars and menus to give Cognos Analytics a more versatile, visible workspace, where the user interface becomes invisible. The smoother user experience shifts the focus from the tool to the data - which is what every good analysis and data discovery platform should strive for.

User Experience and Visual Data Discovery

The analytic workflow is shifting from primarily generating reports to data blending and data discovery with some reporting on the side. Analytics applications are enabling this trend by making data blending and data discovery possible at the desktop. Minimized dependence on IT for curated data sets makes governed data discovery a reality.  

Visual data discovery is not going to replace data preparation or integration tools [4]. However, it will make real business trends and issues easier to communicate. Visual data discovery will increasingly become the lens through which business users explore data sets and analysts diagnose problems. It will be the means by which users experience their data.

The Citizen Data Scientist

The increasing role of visual data discovery in the enterprise will naturally lead to a shift in the way that all members of the enterprise view data. Analysts will be empowered to present compelling, interactive studies to decision makers. Business users will become a new class of citizen data scientists, making observations and creating hypotheses that the data science team can validate with sophisticated and powerful algorithms [5].

Visual data discovery will be a key player in the board room as well. Executives can suggest theories and quickly find preliminary data supporting the theory before undertaking a more rigorous analysis. Every member of the business will have the opportunity to use their own creativity, insight, and perspective to propose data-supported trends.

Tableau confirms this vision for Enterprise Analytics in their report on the top trends in BI for 2016.

Non-analysts across the organization are becoming more sophisticated. They’ve come to expect more than a chart on top of their data. They want a deeper, more meaningful analytics experience. Organizations will adopt platforms that let users apply statistics, ask a series of questions, and stay in the flow of their analysis [6].

Ultimately it will be the role of the data scientist to validate these hypotheses, but starting with the unique input of voices from across the enterprise ecosystem. The sharing of data will lead to a sharing of ideas. The enterprise will thrive with a culture of data engagement and clear data-driven decision making.

User Experience is Social Experience

Intuitive user interfaces make powerful data blending and analytic techniques more accessible and less intimidating for analysts. This culture, if shared across the enterprise, encourages interaction among all levels of the organization, crossing department and status lines. A smooth user experience provides a common language. Better communication leads to bigger impact.

User experience becomes a social experience as information is shared throughout the organization. Dynamic data will be the basis of conversation, not canned reports. “Visual analytics will serve as the common language, empowering people to reach insights quickly, collaborate meaningfully, and build a community around data [7]."

We change our home thermostat from across the country and speak with colleagues on the other side of the globe for little or no cost. Data and technology provide the information and medium required for action. This mentality will pervade the enterprise, bringing all members together in a data-driven culture.

The Future of Human-Machine Interaction

As the number of data entry points increases and data becomes more prolific, humans will become more reliant on digital “personal assistants” - similar to Apple’s Siri - to find relevant data. Gartner predicts that by 2018, "15% of workers will rely on proactive services to discover, organize, and contextualize information [8]." Important data will be highlighted, trends proposed, and time saved.

As app culture, standards, and conventions continue to develop both in the enterprise and society at large, the focus will inevitably shift from app-specific integration or human interaction to an immersive user experience [9]. From the introduction of gestures in the user interface to face recognition technology, user experience is going to continue to improve and simplify. A data driven, user experience conscious organization will be ready for anything if adoption begins now.

This trend has influenced other domains as well. As computers become more powerful, algorithms to test the insights gained by intuitive user interfaces and visual data discovery will become more sophisticated. The data scientist will be equipped with new techniques to do their job. We’ll discuss this trend more in our next post

This post is the second in a series exploring the five trends that Inquidia sees in the business intelligence marketplace.

  • Data is expanding, and the “connected everything” encourages users to engage their data.

  • Inviting and powerful UIs enable business users to be more comfortable with less IT experience.

  • Data scientists are empowered by faster and stronger algorithms and techniques to test hypotheses.

  • The age of search and the intelligent web conditions users to expect instant access to data for exploration and development of hypotheses.

  • Enterprises will use storytelling, data drilling, and peer-powered collaboration to generate hypotheses and make decisions.




[2] Ibid


[4] Gartner Embrace Self Service… page 9

[5] Gartner Use the… Compass to Drive Strategy

[6] Tableau Top 10 BI Trends in 2016

[7] Ibid

[8] Gartner webinar… The Future is a Digital Thing

[9 Gartner webinar… The Future is a Digital Thing

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