Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Communication Design for Business Intelligence

Users feel that reports are generally overloaded with information. Our understanding on the users’ behavior and mental models helps to reduce the information load and display the information in a reporting tool with optimized presentation.

The following are the usability aspects that need to be taken into account while designing information for a Business Intelligence tool.

1. Efficient & Effective Search Functionality
There could be myriad reports and data to be accessed frequently by the users and the navigation through menus, sub-menus or links could be cumbersome. For faster retrieval of reports the search functionality should be effective and efficient with the following features:

Natural Language Search:

The search component should be able to recognize the regular spoken language typed in by users in addition to keywords. This will give a human touch to the business intelligence tool. An example is shown below:


Auto Suggest:
‘Auto Suggest’ can be used in Search functionality to provide a rich user experience while searching for specific information with a keyword. A sample illustration is provided below.


Categorization in Search Results:
The search results should be clearly categorized for the users to differentiate the kind the data from images, reports etc.

Basic and Advanced Search:
The users should have the ability to use the search as per their convenience. Users who frequently access the business intelligence for reports can have options to view on a daily or weekly basis. Those users, who use the system less frequently, have advanced search options to narrow down their search results to an old report.
Basic Search:


Advanced Search
:


Save Search Criteria:
For users who use a search criteria frequently an option to save that search criteria will be useful by removing the reoccurring task of working on the fields.

2. Faceted Organizing
Instead of forcing one way to retrieve reports, faceted organizing allows users to view or find a report in any way they want, with more flexible and dynamic categorization schemes. This helps in the following:

Directory Navigation:
In each step the number of categories is reduced by one


Faceted Search:

Instead of searching by a keyword, the users narrow down the search results matching the characteristics of reports. An illustration depicting faceted search is shown below:


3. Information Design & Graphical Representation
Providing visual cues will help users understand most complex data with ease and with an experience of having fun at work. There should not be a feeling that the task displayed is some agenda that is being thrust upon.


4. Inverted Pyramid Content Design
The best practice of inverted pyramid writing technique can be used for reports with a slight variation. The most important information needs to be provided at the top lines to the user. This will reduce the time taken for a user in going through the entire content of information as opposed to getting the crux of the report with a cursory look.


5. Progressive Disclosure
Progressive disclosure is a trick used by the information architects to design the information architecture in such a manner where additional content is revealed only on an action by the user. An example is shown below where the detailed information of deployable are shown in Level 2


6. Personalization & Prioritization
Everyone’s need for information varies and depend on his/her interests. Thus it is difficult to determine what a user wants from the sea of information that is out there in the business intelligence tool. Information overflow and spamming are definitely unappreciated.
Ability to personalize and prioritize the user interface, inform of dashboard or the user’s secured home page will allow the user to modify the screen based on his/her requirement and need.

7. Derivation of Action
The use of dashboard and reports are not only to display information but also to proactively inform or initiate an action which requires immediate attention. Example: Alerts


8. Exploratory User Interface
To help users to learn by doing, an exploratory approach should be used to design the Business Intelligence tool. This also helps in rectifying the need for help documentation, demos and FAQs and ensures a zero learning curve.

9. Accessibility
It’s also important to make the information accessible for everyone by adhering to accessibility guidelines. MindTree will test the tool for accessibility aiming to analyze the content, layout, navigation, graphics, etc. to ensure that the interface can be used by:
The differently abled
The visually impaired
The Aged

10. Business Intelligence As A Social Tool

We respect users’ privacy but at the same time, we are users’ are becoming more social. The business intelligence tool can now move from just searching reports, displaying dashboards to creating relationships, storytelling, creating and sharing opinions that has influenced decision making practices in general.
Reviews: Peer reviews are greatly influencing learning and decision making in users’ daily lives.
Mobile Access:
Portables can be accessed on different mediums, anywhere.
Communication: Interacting and sharing through various mediums or multi-channels.
Collaboration: Allow users to collaborate in report generation and in creating a single document.


Reference:
On Faceted Navigation
http://www.welie.com/patterns/showPattern.php?patternID=faceted-navigation
http://well-formed-data.net/archives/274/mace-portal-update

Thanks to:
Anshuman Singh & Afshan Kirmani for reviewing my draft work
Madheswaran Periasamy for sharing the illustration used for Auto Suggest
Hetna Naik for pointers to Social Tool, Personalization & Prioritization
Baizal Jacob for his thoughts on Derivation of Action