It was a privilege to be part of the team for Microsoft® PowerPivot, a new product that will change business intelligence by empowering information workers with the ability to conduct ad-hoc data analysis on massive amounts of data.
I’m going to tell you a tiny part of the PowerPivot story which is how the product icon came to be.
A few weeks before the deadline for CTP2 I was asked to create a product icon for PowerPivot — sooner rather than later.
Here is what we thought… in the end :-)
It needed to look like it could comfortably sit with the Office family of icons. (They changed them for Office 2010 but not too much.)
We couldn’t really abandon the legacy imagery of SQL Analysis Services, nor would we want to.
We wanted to portray the idea of the two windows that people would use with PowerPivot and Excel.
But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. First we started with these sketches:
The Data, Information, Knowledge, & Wisdom hierarchy has shifted. Systems that store and transform data automatically apply simple or semantic metadata to the records they process.
What most consider data is really information in an early stage of refinement. Raw data off the sensor is something that a human will rarely see.
Information architects have the opportunity to extend their purview of information into what most would consider data.
Information Warehouse not Data Warehouse
Master Information Services not Master Data Services
The notes above are parts of an idea that has been bashing around in my brain for a while now. Data is Information. Information needs IAs.
Where am I coming from?
I recently worked for the Microsoft SQL UX team; there I was exposed to many things that I had ignored throughout my career because I thought “I’m not a database guy”. Even now I’m not even a novice DBA but at SQL I was exposed to the problems that individuals and organizations have with managing and manipulating ‘massive’ amounts of data (I have massive in quotes because my personal definition of massive has changed dramatically). The challenges that I was asked to deal with was how people dealt with these problems… because I’m a designer. When I stopped thinking about data as a blob and starting thinking about it as information that people need in context then I realized that many of the issues that ‘information workers’ have with data are information architecture challenges.
Many of the people that I’ve met who have been responsible for massive data sets approach it from the supply side: Is it secure; is it highly available; is it optimized; is it clean; …etc. The people who need the data to do their job demand answers to their questions and don’t know, or need to know, the ER diagrams of your database. These people need to find pieces of data, understand how they relate and use it to answer their questions.
After my exposure to the difficulties people have manipulating data because they don’t understand its context, I became fascinated with how we could make this easier on people and provide more value to organizations. After all, my job isn’t to create better information systems my job is to make better information workers.
Who inspires me?
A few months ago I found a podcast where Jon Udell speaks with the Chief Scientist of IBM Entity Analytics, Jeff Jonas, who discusses a set of themes woven through his work, explored on his blog, and captured in a series of evocative phrases: perpetual analytics, non-obvious relationship awareness, sequence neutrality, “data finds data”, and anonymous resolution. I’ve listened to this 50 minute talk about a half a dozen times now and each time I find a new notion that totally blows me away.
When the “data can find the data,” there exists an opportunity for the insight to find the user.
After leaving SQL I was trying to figure out a way to talk about the ideas I had on how information architects could help with the challenges. Early in 2010 Gene Leganza published Topic Overview: Information Architecture for Forrester Research, Inc. In this overview he talks about the 15 hot technology trends that Forrester has identified as fueling the next period of technology innovation and growth and how 5 of them could benefit from better information architecture practices.
I agree with the 5 that he has chosen but I also feel that having someone who practices IA on the team could help improve the user experience of:
Business rules processing moves to the mainstream
Collaboration platforms become people-centric
Apps and business processes go mobile
BPM will be Web-2.0-enabled
I (mostly) like the article and I can recognize that its primary audience is Enterprise Architects. Keeping this in mind the paper provides great potential to re-imagine what enterprise information architecture could be. Information architects are needed because when exploiting and organizing information questions are more important than answers and, in my experience, designers tend to ask better questions then engineers.
I hope that the Information architecture community embraces this opportunity, I will explore this more in the future but I’m notoriously slow to post. I wish I could have been discussing this with people at the IAsummit, maybe next year.
DISCLAIMER: This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer. The information that I present will often be created by others and they would be the owners of that content, I do not presume any ownership of their content.