Business Gauges — BI vendors just don’t get it

The sad truth is, most BI vendors don’t understand business intelligence, and they never will until customers demand software that really works. As long as you don’t know what you need or are easily taken in by flashy screens that provide a level of intelligence that’s geared for toddlers, the vendors will continue to crank out more and more useless drivel. It all looks the same. Most vendors determine what to do with their products based on what the other guys are doing. If the other guys are making dashboard gauges that you can hardly read because the information is obscured behind simulated glare (see below), then vendors will bust their butts to develop a new gauge that is so hidden in glare you’ll need to wear sun glasses to look at it at all.

Here’s the latest example from a newcomer called Business Gauges:

Business Gauges

If you squint really hard, you can barely make out some of the values. But who cares, because if you’re an executive who likes to pretend that you’re driving a car while sitting at your desk rather than actually managing your business, then having a dashboard that is truly informative doesn’t really matter. According to the press release, “Business Gauges lets you monitor your business performance using hovering gauges on your desktop and centralized data sensors. Business Gauges is an agile, easy-to-use software, allowing any company or organization, of any scale, to gain the competitive advantage of using real-time business dashboard software.” Hovering gauges? Who wouldn’t be thrilled with that? Centralized data sensors? I have no idea what this means, but it definitely sounds cool. And who doesn’t want to be agile? At one point in the press release the product is called “a deviceful executive dashboard software.” Deviceful? Oh my god, I can already see the flood of competing ads claiming to have the product that is the most deviceful of them all. If you’re the type of person who can read meaningless marketing hype like this and think it actually makes sense, then this is definitely the product for you.

I’m sure that the people behind Business Gauges have the same intentions as all the other vendors out there: they’re out to make money. They’re convinced that you want your software to look like a toy, so that’s what they’re giving you. And you know what? This product will probably wind up on thousands of desktops, but the world will be poorer for it.

Don’t stand for this! Show the vendors that you actually care about getting information that is meaningful. Only one thing will put an end to the onslaught of crap that floods the business intelligence market: you must refuse to buy it. And I’m not just talking about Business Gauges; I’m talking about any product from any vendor (including the big guys) that was not developed to solve real problems in ways that actually work.

Take care,

Signature

6 Comments on “Business Gauges — BI vendors just don’t get it”


By Nicolas. March 10th, 2007 at 2:33 pm

Are you writing this after trying the software or are you flaming based on that screenshot. I actually took part in testing Business Gauges. The glare effects can be removed. The software works like the vendor says it does. No more, no less.

Flaming without taking a closer look for someone like you is really unprofessional. I’m sorry.

By Stephen Few. March 10th, 2007 at 6:03 pm

My comments are in response to the examples of Business Gauges that the vendor chose to display to the public. I mentioned the glare effects as but one example of a fundamentally flawed design. Gauges such as this, implemented as independent widgets that float on the desktop, even without the blinding glare effects, are a poor form of information display. Because the fundamental design of this software is flawed, taking a closer look would fail to reveal any redeeming characteristics.

The ability to evaluate the merits of a product based on a limited set of cues is a result of expertise. This is how experts in all fields do their work. Unlike novices, they do not need to go through a long and laborious process of analyzing everything in detail. Instead, they recognize patterns, based on years of experience, which allow them to make judgements based on a fraction of the information and time that a novice would require. Can an expert’s judgement be wrong. Absolutely. If the cues that he bases his judgement on do not accurately represent the situation as a whole (in this case, the product as a whole), then the judgement can be flawed. If the examples of Business Gauges that I based my judgements do not accurately represent the product, then I would be happy to amend my judgement based on better examples.
If you really care to understand effective dashboard design and then evaluate the merits of Business Gauges for yourself, I have produced a large body of work on this topic, based on years of empirical research, including the book “Information Dashboard Design”. Did Business Gauges study information design and spend years researching the most effective ways to present information by means of a dashboard? The product clearly shows that this didn’t happen. I’m sure they worked very hard to develop the product. It is a shame that they put so much effort into mechanisms of display and functionality that don’t work.

You seem to agree that the glare effects are a problem. If they undermine the effectiveness of the display, why did the vendor build them into the product and also feature them in their marketing materials? Would a vendor that understands effective information display and cares about its customers do such a thing?

By Patrick. March 12th, 2007 at 8:51 am

Stephen is correct, this company is just riding the current fad of using the latest rendering technology to create a “virtual view” that relies on the metaphor that monitoring status with computing technology is similar to doing so with analog machinery. Its not a bad gig if they can make it last, for its a heck of a lot easier to render gauges than it is to make them accurate, easy to create and customize, and be legible and consistent at high density, in limited space, or in crude rendering enviroments.

There is a small amount of merit to this approach, aka a cognitive “bridge” for new users to understand the purpose of this sort of computer display…”oh, its like a car dashboard for my business”…so that they know how to interact with it. Once users understand this, however, they will quickly demand real productivity and performance gains, like “can I get this same information to display always in my toolbar” (they can) or “I want to see 70 speedometers on this page and the glare would blind me” or “can my dashboard display match my cellphone display? or “how will this print in grayscale?”.

Its absurd to require that today’s rich and flexible display and computing capability be limited to propagating the unnecessary constraints of antiquated analog display technology.

Gauges like this are like a sexy sports car that will not fit your luggage or start in cold weather.

By Mike Brooks. March 22nd, 2007 at 12:57 pm

Stephen is right. Gauges take up a lot of space for a little useful information. The argument for any value in Business Dashboards is at best tenuous. Gauges perform when used for highly volatile information so that you can readily discern the changes - that’s why they’re in a car. But “Orders Per Month!”… please. To update and rephrase Tufte, “Remove all the pixels that do not show useful information” (the ink on the page statement).

Mike Brooks

By John Musgrove. March 23rd, 2007 at 5:08 am

Mike is also correct. A “dashboard” for daily and weekly data is a billboard. Too many folks think a dashboard should display static data. I even heard one manager say he was building a department dashboard, to be updated every 6 months!

By Stephen Few. March 23rd, 2007 at 6:51 am

John,

Data does not need to be updated more frequently than daily for the display to qualify as a dashboard. A dashboard is for quickly monitoring what’s going on. If your job involves monitoring information as it changes throughout the day, then you need a near-real-time dashboard. A dashboard for someone in charge of a group of telesales people fits into this category. Most people’s work, however, only requires them to monitor information daily. Even though they don’t need to spend the day staring at the screen, when they perform this daily monitoring acitivity, they need to do it quickly. For instance, a Chief Financial Officer doesn’t need to monitor expenses every minute or even every hour. He needs to see what’s going on daily. Most people can look at their dashboard in the morning and that’s it for the day. If something that they discover on the dashboard requires a response, that might take them the entire day, but the monitoring activity itself does not.

Steve