There are three important, reinforcing concepts in analytics product development. These are usability, numeracy, and empowerment. Usability is an important goal to pursue in analytics product development, but is no antidote for poor numeracy and empowerment.
Usability is particularly important for analytics product development. Good usability enables the non-specialist, the data civilian, or the casual business user to engage the product and extract the information they need to know.
Some interfaces require specialized training to use (SAS, R, SPSS) while others used to require little experience (Google Analytics pre-2008, OWA today). Several companies have gone to IPO with only marginal improvements to baseline analytics usability. Some companies started out with usability as a key differentiator, only to fail to manage simplicity with incremental features.
Just as usability is a fundamental cause of commercial success, numeracy is a key feature of desirable market segments.
Numeracy is to math as literacy is to reading. It’s the degree to which somebody understands math and statistics. Not every market high numeracy. Basic high school is largely designed to get somebody far enough along to complete their own income tax. There’s a lot more to it than that. Many know how to read a pie chart. Far fewer know how to read a matrix or a crosstab. Those with high numeracy tend to understand the utility of analytics products that much more.
Empowerment varies across markets and roles and represents a key market limitation. Most employees operate within very narrow bands of operational authority. They are locked onto specific operational pathways and generally locked into them. A core consequence of the Great Recession was that signing authority was sucked up into the higher reachers of the hierarchy. This was terrific for cost control. It’s been devastating process improvement.
Bringing it all together:
You could produce the most usable analytics product ever, but if it’s targeted at a market with little numeracy, it’s unlikely to find success. Likewise, you could also produce an extremely usable product, but if the target isn’t empowered to make decisions, it’s an unwanted technical solution.
Usability is an important goal to pursue in analytics product development, but is no antidote for poor numeracy and empowerment.