InfoApps™: The New Face of Self-Service BI and Analytics

Jake Freivald's picture
 By | November 20, 2013
in Business Intelligence, InfoApps, Self-service
November 20, 2013

This InfoApp provides an easy way for users to visualize and interact with information. Using only simple user interface techniques, it mashes up drop-down boxes, Google Maps, reports, and visualization technology to focus on a specific problem: US Sales Performance. It's simple enough for non-technical users, but still provides tens of thousands of different views of the information, helping everyone get answers to the questions they have.

For a long time, the Business Intelligence market was dominated by two types of tools: One that generated static reports for the masses, and another that used analytics to help technically savvy users slice and dice data in very sophisticated ways.

Recently, there has been more and more talk about putting sophisticated analysis into the hands of everyone. It's a great idea in its way -- an attempt to make a greater number of people "smarter" -- but it has serious flaws.

First, most people don't have the time or knowledge to do sophisticated analysis. As an example: predictive policing uses predictive analytics to tell police officers what to expect and where to patrol, but police officers shouldn't need training in data analytics to do their jobs. They don't need "predictive analytics" per se -- they need predictions about likely crime patterns. Providing predictive tool sets won't help most people make smarter decisions.

Second, providing people with more tools just exacerbates the "Excel Hell" problem that has plagued this industry for as long as I've been in it. Yes, data discovery tools let you look at an arbitrary data set, manipulate it to your heart's content, and come up with whatever answers you like -- much like Excel has done across boardrooms for dozens of years. Without consistency in an organization's data and analytical methods, these tools are just a pretty face on top of the same processes that have caused headaches at, say, quarter- and year-end for a long, long time.

So what's the answer?

Look, I'm not trying to argue against data discovery tools. I'm not trying to argue against traditional reporting. I'm trying to argue in favor of something special: Interactivity coupled with simplicity.

And that's the InfoApp.

InfoApps are small and business-focused. Those apps that you have on your phone don't do everything imaginable: They have a few specific functions that are as helpful as they can be. You want to check the weather? There's an app for that. You want to tune your guitar? There's an app for that. These apps are purpose-specific, limited in scope -- and incredibly handy. InfoApps are like that: focused on a specific business problem, ready to help with that problem at a moment's notice.

InfoApps are as simple and intuitive as getting driving directions. You know what you want, and all that you need to do is call up the right app, interact with it, and get the results you need. There's no training required, so you're productive quickly.

InfoApps don't manipulate arbitrary data sets. They include the data you need and the interactivity that will help you get what you want. As a result, everyone who uses a given InfoApp gets the same results -- and there's a lot less confusion across the organizations that need their information.

Unlike dashboards and reports, InfoApps are designed to be interactive from the beginning. Where you might need to go back to IT to add summarization to a report or a graph to a dashboard, InfoApps often enable tens of thousands or more permutations of the data, in ways that use ordinary controls (drop-down boxes, radio buttons, and so on) to manipulate them. As a result, almost anyone can get answers to questions without having to drop into a spreadsheet or call an analyst for help.

Speaking of dashboards, InfoApps help there, too: Instead of requiring IT to build static dashboards, end users can assemble dashboards on a portal to get precisely the layout and information they need. The level of control is high, but the amount of training remains low.

We've written a white paper about dashboards and InfoApps to help you learn more.

More and more people are adopting the InfoApps "less is more" approach. When you try them, you'll see why.