Mike Kearney, Product Marketing Specialist
“Don’t just give me information, give me the answer” demands a Banking professional whose team of eighty people run background checks on new and existing customers as required by financial services regulations. I categorise this as a very modern mindset.
What changed? Why today are business professionals demanding so much more from their technology? The answer is in your pocket. Or in your hand bag. Or on your desk. Or perhaps, just sliding between the cushions of your easy chair. It’s the apps that we use on our smartphones and tablets. Taking as an example navigation, an app we most often use on our smartphones according to Nielsen, I’ll take a look at how this modern mindset of “give me the answer” is driven by data, and the opportunities this presents for a new class of business applications.
Before navigation-by-smartphone we used maps on paper; a useful source of information to locate our starting position, our destination and then work out how best to get from one to the other. A navigation app includes a map, but in this instance the visualisation is presented interactively on a touch screen allowing us to zoom in and out, and to scroll wherever we choose.
On our phones, maps are enriched by another source of information, one derived from GPS: our location. By constantly triangulating and verifying data from multiple sources, the navigation app constantly informs us visually on-screen of our progress from A to B, and takes the next step – literally, from information to the answer – by issuing natural language commands such as “turn right and walk for ninety yards”.
The app applies domain knowledge, in this instance the instructions it offers differ depending on our mode of transport. When we are driving the app “knows” (domain knowledge) not to send us the wrong way up a one-way street. When we choose to walk, the app routes us on suitable pathways.
The navigation app includes virtuous feedback loops. To illustrate, if the app recommends a route but then observes that walkers are opting for a different path for one section of their journey, it changes future recommendations and promotes the alternative and in sharing real-world experience provides a better service to the entire community.
So, distinguishing characteristics of the app include: gathering data from multiple sources of information; triangulating data to reach a detailed and balanced understanding of the situation; applying domain knowledge to ensure that any actions or insights it recommends are useful and relevant; feeding back learnings from current users to make life easier for future users; presenting findings as interactive visualisations.
Some future watchers believe these data driven applications represent the next wave of software that businesses will adopt in their quest for productivity – see recent papers from: Jake Flomenberg, Ping Li, and Vas Natarajan at Accel Partners; Brian Ascher at Venrock; Philip Russom at TDWI.
Back to the banking professional at the top of this blog. The old analog way for his team to research their customers was to run numerous searches on data provided by third-parties, over the Web and within their own internal systems. This research can consume days of work for each new customer. Using the Encompass data driven application to research an individual applying for a business loan in his capacity at a company director, the Bank immediately learned the person was a director at twelve other companies, was serving as a director at an additional eight companies currently being liquidated, and had served as a director at a further twenty two companies that had already been dissolved. The Encompass software took just minutes to reveal this complex web. Their new understanding fundamentally changed how the Bank assessed their risk of making a loan to the individual. A data driven application gave the Banker an answer, not just some information.