Business intelligence applications are known for delivering wonderfully robust computations about a company or its client base or suppliers — or well, just about anything.

Sadly, these applications are also known for being very difficult to use. The earliest iterations literally required a data scientist to serve as an operator.

Later versions were developed with the business user in mind. These were easier to use. But even developers of these applications will admit BI is not the first application that leaps to mind when you hear the term "user friendly."

Birst expects to change that with the seemingly simple development of a new user interface it calls Birst 5X. A look underneath the hood suggests the company may be right.

Introducing Birst 5X

The backbone of the application is the same — it is still built on the company's two-tier architecture. But it has been recrafted to follow people's workaday habits. Perhaps more significantly, it has added crucial mobile connectivity support.

"What we did was reimagine the user experience in a way that adapts to the modern work style," Pedro Arellano, senior director of product strategy with Birst, told CMSWire.

Count Arellano among those who say the BI industry has done little to improve its reputation of being a hard-to-use application. "That is because of the way vendors approach BI product design — they are focused primarily on the tech features and pushing out the tools to users, whether they need or want them, or not."

To improve the user experience, Birst made a number of changes with 5X.

It updated its dashboard and visual discovery capabilities so it is easier for users to transition from device to device while working with the same data.

It also enhanced its mobile functionality with support for disconnected devices. Its responsive design approach adjusts the presentation of the content depending on the form factor and its "build once, deploy anywhere" model eliminates the need to develop multiple copies of a dashboard in order to view it on different devices.

It topped it all off with an Open Client Interface that allows people to use their favorite front-end tool, such as Tableau or Microsoft Excel.

The Daily Life of a Birst User

Birst took the approach of imagining how a user would interact with the application, from the moment he gets out of bed, which sadly, is when many work-life-balance-challenged people begin working. 

A typical user might be the VP of Sales of a company. He wakes up and quickly turns to a nearby tablet device equipped with Birst to check the team's quarterly numbers, its forecast, the probability of making quota and the deals that are at risk.

Then he jumps on the train to commute to work and continues his analysis. He sees an area of risk that he wants to discuss with a colleague and marks that for further review.

He arrives at his office, and with the full-fledged Birst application available on the desktop is able to really drill down. Up until this point on this day, he has been working with dashboards — Birst's mobilized version of its app. Now with a full screen he able to transition into visual discovery and exploratory tools to dig deeper into that trouble spot he saw on the train.

Much of this functionality was available before, Arellano explains. The changes to Birst 5X are subtle – but powerful too. That VP of Sales? Using an earlier version he might not have had mobile connectivity in some spots on the train. It also wouldn’t have been so easy to transition to visual discovery with a click.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Title image by @lain G, plus très présent.