What do Highly User-Friendly BI Tools and European Travel Expert Rick Steves Have in Common?

Source: Rick Steves Press Room

I am a longtime fan of Rick Steves, host of the long-running PBS television series Rick Steves Europe and author of an extensive series of European travel guides. His London guide helped me make the most of limited free time while traveling to the old world on business.  I hope to return sooner rather than later!

Always keeping an eye out for interesting business analogies, I suggest Rick Steves and highly user-friendly BI tools actually have a lot in common.   For openers, Rick Steves has a knack of making European travel as non-intimidating as possible for new travelers; very user-friendly BI tools help eliminate the ‘intimidation factor’ non-technical personnel might feel when trying to use an analytical tool. 

I think the analogy between Rick Steves’ brand of travel and user-friendly BI tools goes much deeper, after reading Rick Steves’ unique travel philosophy…  

  • Rick Steves refers to his brand of European travel as “Through the Back Door” – a great concept that extends nicely to BI.   In the introduction to his travel guides, Rick Steves further explains this phrase: Who might visit you at the back door of your home?  A close neighbor; a good friend.  In other words, “Through the Back Door” travel implies an experience of friendly informality, which helps travelers “live like a local.”  End users experience a similarly positive experience with high ease-of-use BI tools: an easily understood means to explore the data (friendly), requiring no need for help from IT or other formal channels (informality), and “live like a local” with the data; experiencing it for themselves instead of leaning on a “data tour guide,” also known as a BI “power user.”
  • The best travel experiences and most beneficial experiences using BI are very unlikely to be the most expensive.  In Rick Steves’ own words, “In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you came to see.”  Wow – I could just copy and paste this sentence directly into an article on BI spending!  Rick Steves’ point as it pertains to travel is clear: expensive restaurants, boring hotel chains and over-planned guided tours unwittingly create “gatekeepers” between the traveler and the culture you intend to experience.  Similarly, traditional BI tools carry with them the heavy baggage of very long development and implementation cycles; substantial end-user training and high learning curves; pervasive requests by end users for help; and yes, a hefty price tag.  “A tight budget forces you to travel close to the ground, meeting and communicating with the people,” Rick Steves says.  For BI tools that are so user-friendly that their use is almost intuitive, training and implementation costs go down dramatically, and yet, the actual end-user experience with the data is far more rewarding.
  • However, as Rick Steves also says, “Never sacrifice sleep, nutrition, safety, or cleanliness” when traveling.  Similar rules apply to BI; namely, avoid “shadow systems”!  For the sake of simplicity and out of sheer frustration with complicated traditional BI, end users often resort to creating their own “shadow systems” – separate, unmonitored “silos” of information, often stored in spreadsheets (the dreaded spreadmart!).  This often leads to data inconsistencies and “multiple versions of the truth.”  Highly user-friendly BI tools that easily provide accurate, flexible, actionable data help eliminate the perceived need among knowledge workers for dodgy shadow systems.  Shadow systems are the “tourist trap” of Business Intelligence.

And I will stop here and ask you to please share your “BI travel recommendations” – name your favorite highly user-friendly BI tool(s) that let end users easily embark on their own insightful explorations of data.  Bon voyage. 

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