I’ve suggested in the past, approximately, that the platform technology side of business intelligence is more significant than the user interface. That formulation, however, doesn’t exactly capture what I believe. To be more precise, let’s differentiate between a couple aspects of business intelligence UI.
It might seem that a lot of the action in business intelligence revolves around ever-better visualization. After all, Tableau is clearly identified as a visualization-centric technology; who’s hotter than Tableau? And numerous other vendors talk of “visualizations” too. But I don’t think that’s exactly right — rather, I see navigation as being a much bigger deal. And unlike most pure visualization, navigation usually depends strongly on underlying platform capabilities.
Examples of what I mean by innovative navigation — all of which have been developed or have gained prominence over the past decade or so — include:
- QlikView’s core behavior — all that associative navigation.
- QlikView’s collaboration, and every other BI collaboration capability I know of.
- ClearStory, although you won’t get to see what I mean until the launch next month.
- BI search or faceted-search UIs. (E.g. Endeca.)
- BI that is launched from operational applications.
By way of contrast, how has pure visualization improved over the same time period? Mainly, it’s been ported from fat Windows clients to browser-based technologies and then again to mobile platforms.
The comparison would be similar, I think, if we looked back 25 years instead of 10.
A natural rebuttal to this view is to note, correctly, that BI is commonly sold on the strength of glitzy demos. But if we’re just talking about static displays, those demos were just as glitzy a decade ago, and indeed pretty good as soon as PCs replaced monochromatic terminals. Even Tableau brags that its users find its product “fun”, not that they find it pretty.
It might be reasonable to say that most BI differentiation focuses on either:
- User interface, for which I’ve argued that navigation outweighs pure visualization.
- Enterprise-friendliness, which to a first approximation is unrelated to visualization and navigation alike.
- Above all, getting the information users want, for example through:
But you know what? One of the most important consideration in getting the information users want is — you guessed it — navigation.