Making BI More Accessible Through Data Visualization

This is the continuation of the transcript of DM Radio’s program titled “The Consumerization of Business Intelligence: How and Why.”

Eric Kavanagh:  Okay folks, we’re back here at DM Radio, talking about the consumerization of BI.  And our next guest knows a thing or two about that, Francois Ajenstat of Tableau Software.  Welcome back to DM Radio.

Francois Ajenstat:  Hi everyone, great to be here.

Eric Kavanagh:  Sure thing.  So obviously at Tableau, I mean let's face it, you guys are right out there at the forefront of trying to make BI more accessible, through data visualization and all these various tools, allowing people to mix and match datasets. 

You had some interesting thoughts about how we have gotten here and what it all means.  Well, what do you think the history is about, the sort of how and why of the consumerization of BI?

Francois Ajenstat:  I think Tracie had some really great points.  A fundamental thing is that people want answers to their questions when they want it.  And if you think about the business intelligence space, what have we been doing for the last 20 years?  

We have been building these complex systems and requiring people to read these 60 page manuals to run reports.  These reports are really slow to run, and by the time the users get it, it's not what they wanted.

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Users Want Their Information Fast

And as we have seen in the last few years, not only has the iPad changed the dynamic of how users want to interact with their data and want to interact with information, but Google has also changed the dynamic in terms of the expectations of how fast the users want to get their information.  And when you start combining these two things together, the business users have no more patience, business is moving fast, and so the skill level has to be brought down so that anybody can get up and going and get their data Apple easy and Google fast.  All of those things have happened in the last few years.

Eric Kavanagh:  Apple easy and Google fast, that’s good.  I’ve got to write that one down.

Francois Ajenstat:  But when you think about that, how much time did you spend learning how to use your iPad or your Google device?  Very little, right?  There is a little bit of a learning curve just to get familiar with it, but there is no manual that you spend time with it.  And you just get it.  So the skill level required to operate the BI system has dramatically changed and will continue to dramatically change in the next couple of years.  

Also, another aspect is the approach; you can't just deliver the same old stuff in these new paradigms.  You have to transition and provide it in a way that makes it easier for people to understand as well.  So Tableau has taken a visualization approach to that problem but there are lots of other ways to approach that as well.

Eric Kavanagh:  Yeah, that’s a good point.  And I like what you were saying before the show about typewriters and that thing.  You want to explain what you were saying there?

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Francois Ajenstat:  Sure.  I think you were offering to buy me a new typewriter, I think is how it started.  But I mean really if you think about the history of computing and the workplace, it wasn’t that long ago where in order to get a memo written or a letter written, you had to go and call the typing pool and get somebody else to write that up for you on a typewriter.  And that was what 20 years, 30 years ago.  And then this great invention came about called WordPerfect and Word, and this technology has now changed the dynamic from having somebody else write the letter to now me, the user, who has a creative thought, being able to do it right where they are on their desktop, and in this case, now also on their mobile device.  

But nobody thinks about those typing pools anymore.  That’s old technology.  And that same thing is happening now in the business intelligence space where in most organizations you have to ask somebody else to write the report for you, and you have to wait a couple days for that to come back, and then you get it back and it's not what you wanted.  You mark it up and you put some red lines on it and you send it back.  That slowness isn't how the world is moving to, and consumerization is a great example of how this evolution has occurred. The change that occurred many years back with the typing pools is now also happening in the business intelligence space.

Eric Kavanagh:  Yeah.  And I am guessing that you have done some research because man, typing pools, you don’t look like you are 55 or 60 years old; you look good if you are that old.

Francois Ajenstat:  Well, thank you very much.

Eric Kavanagh:  Honestly to say because I am old enough to remember, I mean we used a linotype machine in my first job, when I was in a small town newspaper.  And I mean talk about old school, this was a weekly newspaper, and to write, it was all paced up, okay so it's long before -- well it's actually at the beginning of desktop publishing tools.  We used to use, it wasn’t Kodak Express, it was some Apple program, a sort of a precursor to things like InDesign.  But we would use that and then print it up on a printer and then run it through the wax machine and stick it on the sheets and then shoot it with a stat camera.

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Evolution of Report Development Speed

But to actually write the headlines, we would use a linotype machine.  And for those of you who don’t know how these old things used to work, there was no screen rep; you could not see what you were typing so you would better type it properly because then it would print up and the thing would come out and you would clip it off and you better get it right, otherwise you had to type it again.  And that film, that paper in there was expensive.

So can you imagine a typewriter where you can't even see what you are typing?  That’s how much things have changed.  But no, those are all really good points.  And I think talking about this, what was it Apple easy and Google fast? I mean here again, we have market dynamics that are changing the level of expectation in the end user and altering the patience level.  And it's like Tracie’s point, no one wants to read manuals and nobody wants to wait. 

So if you are not delivering as an IT team or a business person involved with IT for reporting and analytics and so forth, if you are not delivering to your end users tools and technologies that work as you say Google fast and Apple easy, then you are going to get blowback, you are going to get shadow IT, you are going to get all kind of things happening, right?

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