Better user assistance could narrow big data gap, says Oracle SVP

Balaji Yelamanchili, Oracle's SVP for analytics and performance management, talks about the future of user assistance tools for analytics.

Balaji Yelamanchili, Oracle's senior vice president for analytics and performance management products, has a son who loves League of Legends, the most popular massively multiplayer online game currently on the market. Tremendous amounts of data are generated and processed continuously to create the game experience for League of Legends players. But, in an interview at the Collaborate 14 Oracle users conference in Las Vegas, Yelamanchili said his son isn't intimidated by all the data because he's extremely comfortable with the game's user interface.

Instead of complaining that his son spends too much time playing video games, Yelamanchili sees the seamless user experience in games like League of Legends as a call to action for Oracle to upgrade the user assistance functionality in its analytics applications to help business users work with, and make sense of, the vast amounts of data flowing into organizations. He said he takes it as a "challenge to improve to gaming industry standards."

The user experience and the intuitive aspects of it, and self-service [are] critical both now and in the future.

Balaji Yelamanchili,
Oracle SVP for analytics and performance management

Oracle currently offers a set of role-based and persona-based user assistance modules through the cloud -- an offering that Yelamanchili described as the first step down the road to a more intuitive experience of complex data for Oracle users.

The next generation of people coming into the workforce is not going to accept tools that are below consumer software levels of timeliness, personalization and interactivity, Yelamanchili said. To help reach those levels, he thinks there's a need for more emphasis on user roles and personas in user assistance technology. The idea, he said, is to help every employee who needs to access analytical data -- not just data scientists -- understand how to look at the information and develop better insights, via embedded best-practices guidance that's available in context to prevent users from being overwhelmed by the analytics software.

For example, Yelamanchili said that for a sales executive, a user assistance feature shouldn't focus on "how to build a dashboard, but about how to look at your sales, how to look at your opportunities, and how do you blend some information that you're not used to looking at to get some real insight into the quality of your pipeline."

User assistance tools should also "reach out to people," he added. To accomplish that, they could employ video snippets and text vignettes and use layman's terms to explain concepts. In addition, organizations should be able to provide added context for their employees by creating custom user assistance modules relevant to specific internal roles, Yelamanchili said. The ability to create custom modules for Oracle's software exists now, but only for cloud-based implementations; the company plans to eventually make it available in the on-premises versions of applications as well.

However, the transition to being more comfortable with using data is "as much cultural as it is a business process issue," Yelamanchili said. He noted that it takes discipline -- and corporate leadership -- to get away from gut-level reactions or to make sure they're also backed up with data. "There is a correlation between the culture and the competency you want to build," he said. "The sponsorship has to be there from the top down." BI and analytics managers have to ensure that the required tools and information "are available to the people on the front lines," he added, but getting to the point where users are routinely making data-driven decisions "is not overnight."

And it isn't just the layman user who wants tools that can help ease analytics complexity, according to Yelamanchili. "The data scientist can deal with the complexity, but he would rather have better tools," he said. "The reality is you need to make simple things simple. If they need something complex, you give them what they need, but it may have a bit of additional complexity there."

Yelamanchili also believes that improved and more-tailored user assistance modules are a step toward narrowing the gap between data scientists and regular business users; it's enabling organizations to get more business value from their analytics initiatives. "The user experience and the intuitive aspects of it, and self-service [are] critical both now and in the future," he said.

This was first published in April 2014

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