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Best Practices, Platon

Closing the gap between ”Using” and ”Taking advantage of”

In the later years the difference between Performance Management and BI software from different vendors has become smaller. All the products on the market can handle the data and present it nicely to the end users. Earlier you could differentiate by comparing features – today you have several suites to choose from with a complete set of features.

Especially smartphones has revolutionized our expectation of user experience. I have sometimes catched myself in being annoyed when my laptop doesn’t know where I am (GPS) and I can’t just tap on the screen for interaction, things my smartphone has tought me to expect. The fuzz around user experience is however not new. 10 years ago the user experience was highlighted as an advantage of the product. ”Look we actually have a web based portal included with some nice graphs”. Todays end users demand cool looking interfaces on different platforms with possibility to interact.

Another thing that has changed is, before we build solutions for a narrow part of the business users, only key employees had access to the reports. Today we want to hit a much broader audience. It has become more important than ever to be able to impact every corner of the business by providing the right information at the right time.

This is the corner stone: ”The right information, at the right time”. Most of the software out there is actually capable of that. Very often we see all the smart features used in sales demos. The salesman shows the capabilities by clicking his way through a business case getting from a red blinking dot presenting a KPI out of range to detailed information he can use for correcting the situation. At the end of the day, when the solution has been implemented, the features of the software has not been used – at least not to create a useful and time saving user experience. You might have the KPI on one page and some detailed spreadsheets on another, but the context of the solution is missing.

The challenges of building an information management solution are many: You need to have return on investment for every hour you spent on building it. You need to make sure your end users actually gets advantage of the data they are presented, which means you only want to present exactly the data they need. You need to have flexibility in changing your solution when new demands show up.

So how do you achieve all this, and still get a solution your users actually wishes to use?

First of all, you need to think of user experience right from the beginning. You need to ask a large representation of your end users some questions:
• Which indicators will tell you to act?
• Which data will you then need to act upon?
• When do you need them?

If your salesman needs up to date stock data in his car just before entering a customer, you can’t provide him with a weekly updated report. He will know that it is not up to date, and simply bypass it by calling his colleague in the stock Department wasting his own, his colleague’s and the company’s time. (Not to mention the time it took to build the weekly report solution).

Secondly you need to include people in your project who know the business and its data. If a salesman wants to know the stock of a part number subtracted all open orders you not only need people who have knowledge of the stock system – but also the order system.

The third thing you need is up-to-date knowledge of the capabilities of the software and how to implement different features. At the same time how to connect it to the business. It is rarely hard to implement a feature on a demo system fitted for just that. The hard part can be thinking “out of the box” when the feature does not fit exactly in your solution. How do you provide the stock number to your salesman if he only has a phone line available in his car and he needs to be able to interact? Often I have seen an alternative, less useful feature implemented, just because no one knew how to implement the right one.

The last thing to highlight is the recognition of value. If you are convinced that providing your employees with “the right data at the right time” will actually be worth the effort compared to just present all available data in a weekly report, you are well on your way. It might actually be a bit easier (read cheaper) to implement the “weekly” report solution, but every time the report comes out everyone will have to read through a bunch of irrelevant numbers and the important ones may drown. This sounds obvious but I have seen many solutions with all data updated weekly and sent out to all users.

My conclusion is – there has been a huge development in the information management area over the last couple of years. The user groups have become larger with more sophisticated demands. The software suites have become more advanced with more features. The need for exactly the right data at the right time have become more important. Therefore to take your solution a step further, and not just provide a new weekly report, it’s more important than ever to put the user experience in center. You must make sure the right people (the end users) play a big part in the project. Your job is to provide them with exactly the data they need, when they need it in a context that makes it easy for them to act. Another important thing is to ally with independent guidance. You need to find out which features you have available, which you will need and how to implement them, at least if you want to extend the use of your software from using features, to actually take advantage of the right ones.

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About Jesper Wittendorff

With many years of experience in implementing Performance Management (PM) and BI solutions at large nordic Companies I am now working as a Senior Consultant at Platon. I have participated in all parts of projects from the buying process over design and implemenation to education and rollout to endusers. At this blog I will share some tips and good advice with you, to use in your own work with Information Management. Enjoy...

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