Top Five Tips For Making Your BI Solutions User Friendly

When people think of UX (user experience) design, it’s often in the context of e-commerce or B2C websites or apps – designing with the goal of making things more intuitive and appealing for shoppers, for instance.

But some of my favorite projects over the years have involved creating user-driven internal business intelligence (BI) solutions for clients.

BI involves taking raw data and translating it into useful information that can drive strategies, decisions, operational changes, etc. The next step is creating dashboards and other solutions to get that BI to the people who need to take action. This is where UX plays a crucial role: Those solutions need to be driven by thinking of the end user.

Here are the top five lessons I’ve learned in years of working on BI solutions:

  • Make sure people can use your solution. A no-brainer, yes. But you’d be surprised how non-people-friendly some dashboards and other BI solutions are. Our users are hoping to gain insights from the data via our tools, and we have to deliver on that expectation. As Kate Crawford of Microsoft wrote for the Harvard Business Review blog, “We give numbers their voice.”
  • Make sure that people can actually do something concrete and useful with the BI you’re circulating. Again, this might seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve found that with the vast flow of data we can grab these days, companies don’t always do a great job of curating their BI. I’ve seen this drill all too often: “We have the data – let’s just give it to our users and let them figure it out.”Get to the root of what your users need in order to be successful, display that data in such a way that they can act on it and cut out the extraneous stuff. If it’s interesting or surprising, but your end users can’t do anything with it, resist the urge to send it down the BI chute.
  • Match the info you’re sharing to the person who will be on the receiving end. Give some thought to your target audience: What is their job description and role? What is their background knowledge/expertise with regards to this BI you’re dispensing? For instance, if you’re sharing info widely that’s really best-suited for the CFO as opposed to the entire marketing team, it’s a fail. Understanding your audience is huge in creating dashboards and BI solutions.
  • Taking that one step further, align the info on your dashboard to the goals of your audience. It’s a given that you’re going to end up with a lot more data than you can put on a dashboard, which has the advantage of forcing you to decide which data points are the most important.What hierarchy makes sense for your end users? (If you find you have overflow info that will be truly useful for them but doesn’t quite make the dashboard cutoff, you can always make it available to them elsewhere.)
  • Be careful about the colors you use on your dashboard. There is a stoplight-related color “language” that has come to be associated with dashboards: Red is not good, yellow signifies neutral results, and green means things are steaming along well. If your company brand colors include one of these, be aware that they often come loaded with other connotations in the dashboard environment.

From driving business insights to answering key questions, BI solutions can be vital to the success of your business — if they’re well-executed, that is. If not, they can become digital artifacts, collecting dust — or worse yet, they can create confusion about the state of your business instead of providing clarity. Put the time and thought into your BI strategy up front, and it will pay off in the end.