Friday, 31 May 2013

What is the Best Way to Display Business Intelligence Data?

Visualization is a key component of all business intelligence solutions, whether you're dealing with Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, or SAP Crystal Reports. Business intelligence data can be displayed in a manner as simple as rows and cells on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet, to something complex like an interactive map or three-dimensional bars and graphs with a dynamic visual tool like Microsoft Silverlight. Obviously, the key factor is that the data is understood as quickly and comprehensively as possible, so what's the best route to get there?
It may sound like a cop-out to those who are currently struggling with this issue, but the answer is: it depends.
That's not a cop-out, and it's not skirting the issue; it's the truth. Different audiences are going to interpret data visualizations in different ways. To a doctor or someone who works at an architecture firm, analyzing three-dimensional data is likely the norm. They've gone through years of school to hone their senses and explore the worlds of 3D imaging. It's nothing new for them, and they're likely succeeding in those fields because their brains work a certain way in the first place.
For others - account executives, project managers, accountants, etc. - something two-dimensional or more basic might be the way to go. That's not to say that these people are less intuitive or less intelligent than the 3D crowd by any means, but their brains may simply be used to processing data in a different manner. Both groups possess analytical intuition around various areas of their jobs that would likely be lost on each other. Different industries, different minds... different course of action for data visualization.
If you're working on developing business intelligence solutions for a client, stop and ask yourself this: What kind of people are going to be using this data? What do I know about my intended audience? If the answer is that you don't know very much, then perhaps you need to take a step back and consult with your client before determining the best course of action. Proceeding onward with a flashy, visually striking 3D plan might seem like the best way to "wow" your client and knock their proverbial socks off, but the key factor is to make sure the data is actually presented in a way that makes sense to them.
In the long run, showing off for the sake of showing off by developing something that's flashy and eye-catching might not impress at all. As a developer or a designer, you may find yourself thinking that the dynamic solution you're working on would be impressive if it were handed to you, but remember - it's about what looks good and what's clear to them.
Take some time. Get to know your audience. Get to know what they're looking for before you dive headfirst into what could be treacherous waters. The most intelligent business intelligence solutions aren't necessary the flashiest; they're the ones that earn you a strong recommendation and a place among your clients' most esteemed partners.