A couple of months ago, I wrote about the #1 Obstacle to BI and Analytics – Ease of Use. There are three other obstacles in this inescapable trend facing product managers and product executives. The focus of this post is #2 – Verticalization.
In a 2011 report on business intelligence adoption, “The Consumerization of BI Drives Greater Adoption,” Gartner says that when a BI platform isn’t tailored to show the relevant information to the right users in an easily understandable and consumable format, users get frustrated and abandon the platform. In other words, if your customers can’t find and use the information they need, they’ll quickly get frustrated and stop using your software.
In the past, the director of supply chain management for an auto parts manufacturer, the CFO of a hospital, and the marketing manager of a cosmetics company have all been given the same generic BI solution with only a customized report to make it applicable to their unique role. In many cases, a specialist was assigned to help these people get the results they needed. That has been the accepted mode of operation, but arguably it never delivered the full vision of actionable intelligence for all. Now with even more data to draw upon, we need to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. To deliver the value of these systems to organizations and end users, analytics solutions must be customized for the specific target audience. This might mean customization across categories of enterprise software, vertical markets, business disciplines, levels within the organization, even for combinations of those things.
The right context = effective data delivery
Product managers must develop a deep understanding of who their users are, what their objectives are, and what results they need to get their job done. Solutions need to consider how and when the results are delivered. Is it in a standard desktop PC environment, on a smartphone or tablet, during office hours or in the evening, in an airport or taxicab? Understanding the context allows the information to be delivered in the most effective way possible.
An example of the success of this approach is Dimensional Insight, a provider of Business Intelligence and performance management software with a focus on the healthcare market. For over two decades, Dimensional Insight has worked with hospitals across the US to harvest data from multiple systems into interactive reports, dashboards, scorecards, and analytical tools. Clinical, quality, operations, and financial departments rely on the resulting timely access to data to drive improvements. This focus has resulted in Dimensional Insight’s winning the 2011 Best in KLAS awards for Software and Services for BI / Reporting, ranked ahead of large players IBM Cognos and SAP BusinessObjects.1 They may be a small company, but Dimensional Insight has carved out a market by tailoring their offering to their vertical, and the result is that they outshine the big players in their niche. One of the reasons for their success is that they began from the customer’s workflow and developed their product from there instead of taking a generic product and customizing it.
The Verticalization of Data
The verticalization issue is complicated by the sheer volume of data. How do you sift through the mass of information, and figure out the what, where, when, and how of presenting the data in the best way for each user persona? We’ve found that the path to true usability is to combine the skills of a product manager who has a deep knowledge of the industry with a usability team. The product manager defines the business segments the application is targeting, and then the UX team researches, designs the interaction, and creates the visual interface, as we outlined earlier. Doing this guarantees a successful partnership—and a usable application. This is especially important to target specific verticals. To specialize in a niche market, you need to truly customize your offering to the expert users in that market.
If you already have an existing product, and more importantly, an existing user base, re-engineering your application for a vertical market might—should— feel like a big mountain to climb. Should you start with the application you have and pare it down? Should you start from scratch, taking the chance to rid yourself of spaghetti code and checkbook engineering? Or is rethinking your presentation layer the best plan?
The answers will be different depending the maturity of your product and the business goals of your company. One of the key factors to such a large change is to maintain the goodwill of your existing users. If you have a loyal existing customer base, you risk alienating them with a UI redesign, yet the massive forces pressing on the BI and analytics markets mean that every product will have to change or be left behind. To help mitigate your risks, but still adapt your UI to be more in line with a particular vertical, I recommend our paper, Overhaul a UI design without upsetting users.
1. KLAS Enterprises is an independent technology research firm that compiles annual ratings of healthcare IT vendor performance. (Source: http://www.dimins.com/index.html).
About the Author
Asif is a strategic and product marketing executive with over 20 years professional experience. He has defined, championed, marketed and launched diverse products to markets worldwide. Asif has worked with large multi-national corporations to start-ups, to established mid-sized businesses and his experience stretches from technology, to services, to the manufacturing sector.
Asif is a leader and doer whose experience and advice has inspired, influenced, and cajoled teams to deliver results in a wide variety of situations. A polished communicator, he is known for distilling complex market situations and ideas into clear revenue generating action plans.
He loves to explore the unknown, whether in business or personal pursuits, and has twice independently traveled around the world expanding his personal understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. A passionate photojournalist, Asif’s photographs have been exhibited in Canada and the US. A father of two young boys, Asif can be found coaching hockey in the winter and enjoying the outdoors in summer.
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