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Wixom: BI applications need visual appeal

Effective presentation of business intelligence data is still something of an art, but it's one that must be mastered if organizations are to successfully extend their BI and analytics environments to larger groups of business users. To reach that end, shrewd businesses increasingly are putting a new emphasis on visual design elements and interactive features in their BI applications.

As part of that effort, some leading-edge companies are bringing graphic design skills into the BI development process to go beyond conventional BI dashboard designs and create more visually appealing data presentations, said Barbara Wixom, an associate professor of IT at the University of Virginia's McIntire School of Commerce in Charlottesville, Va. That approach can boost BI usage and effectiveness and ultimately lead to business improvements and competitive advantages, she said.

The increasing use of self-service BI tools and mobile devices is an important driver, according to Wixom, who is also a visiting scholar at MIT's Sloan School of Management. "This is more than just developing good dashboards, especially as companies are deploying BI through things like iPad applications or iPhone applications; those require different kinds of visual capabilities," she said in a video interview with SearchBusinessAnalytics Executive Editor Craig Stedman at the 2013 TDWI BI Executive Summit in Las Vegas.

In the interview and a presentation at the conference, Wixom pointed to clothing designer and retailer Guess Inc., which built a variety of visual components into an executive dashboard for the iPad. It's an example of an interactive BI application that brings data points to life for end users, she said. For now, utilizing graphic designers is "a distinguishing factor for best-practices types of organizations," Wixom added. "It's probably not a mainstream role yet. That being said, I am quickly seeing adoption of these kinds of roles in organizations."

Wixom spoke further about developing effective and engaging BI applications during the interview. Viewers of the seven-minute video will learn the following:

  • Why Wixom thinks companies should look at involving graphic designers in BI development
  • Her take on how visual design differs from conventional dashboard design
  • What she thinks about whether graphic design approaches are more advanced than where many organizations are in the BI process
  • Why Wixom says BI applications should be fun for business users
  • Additional advice on the keys to building useful BI applications

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