Information Builders Takes New Approach to Business Intelligence Apps

Information Builders says it has developed a new more interactive approach for developing enterprise Business Intelligence and data analytics applications.

Designing Analytics Apps

Information Builders wants to give a boost to enterprise customers who use the company’s WebFocus BI and analytics platform to develop enterprise applications.

The company is promoting its own approach to the “Design Thinking” methodology that it says will help customers improve and optimize their BI and analytics projects and deliver a better return on investment.

“We’ve been seeing a gap where users weren’t adopting applications that had been built,” Jeff Hendrickson, director of UX and Visual Strategies at Information Builders, told eWEEK.

Hendrickson said he’s been a huge fan of the well-known Silicon Valley design firm IDEO and incorporated ideas found in The Ten Faces of Innovation by IDEO partner Tom Kelley.

For enterprise customers, Information Builders is offering a three-day boot camp where users and managers are involved in brainstorming and the process of figuring out what they want an app to do and how information should be presented.

Establish Objectives First

Before the boot camp, Hendrickson or the Information Builders executive who is facilitating the session, meets with managers and stakeholders in person or via video conference to establish what their objectives are.

“It’s very structured. I teach them how to interview users and the importance of UX (user experience) research,” said Hendrickson. “UX and UI are two different things. People often want to lump them together, but it’s important to establish what you want the UX to be first.”

The end result is a working prototype of the application they want to develop that the company can try with their backend systems. “Our account executives are following what’s going on and doing follow up calls,” said Hendrickson. “We’ll do an assessment of the UX and the UI and if it looks wonky, we’ll go back and have further discussions with the customer.”

He compares the process to giving customers a bike with training wheels versus giving a bike to someone who has never ridden one and expecting them to figure it out.

During the first of three webinars Information Builders that is presenting on the topic, Hendrickson said part of this new approach is to get away from strictly linear thinking in developing new applications.

Teams in Cross-Functional Roles

“You also have to think outside the box. We pull teams together from cross-functional roles into the process because they all have a different perspective on what’s going on at the company,” he said. “We want to get all their ideas and make sure they understand that what they are saying makes a difference.”

In a brief video from one of the boot camps, Hendrickson points out how a primary interviewer first talks to users in the front of the room without taking notes to encourage an open conversation about any concerns. Others in the room may take notes and ask follow-up questions.

Key points in the notes are transferred to sticky notes put on a wall for review by the group. “When everyone can see those ideas on the wall, quite often you see a commonality in their notes,” said Hendrickson, that points to shared concerns.

As key design objectives are agreed to, wireframe templates are developed, forming the basis of how the application will work.

'Design Thinking' Needed--From Bottom Up

“Often people don’t understand what they’re looking for until they see something,” said Hendrickson. “At that point, they might say ‘I don’t need that there, can we do this instead?’ And sure, you can because it’s only a wireframe. You haven’t made a big investment in an application that’s hard to change. It’s a very iterative process until everyone says it’s time to rock and roll, let’s move on this.”

Hendrickson noted that “design thinking” isn’t a new idea and a lot of companies have dedicated rooms and programs to promote it.

“But what we’ve seen at many places is a top-down approach where management decides what users need,” said Hendrickson. “We’re really going from the bottom up and that has a bubble up effect that is more holistic and beneficial to the company as a whole.”

David Needle

David Needle

Based in Silicon Valley, veteran technology reporter David Needle covers mobile, bi g data, and social media among other topics. He was formerly News Editor at Infoworld, Editor of Computer Currents...