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Strategic Information Infrastructure:
Information is Just One, Two, Three Clicks Away

online columnist Kevin Quinn     Column published in DMReview.com
December 8, 2005
  By Kevin Quinn

The first two columns in this series can be summarized in a single sentence: Everyone needs information to do their job, but most people (a.k.a. information workers) are not very technical. As a result, an information architecture needs to provide everyone with a simple way to access information.

This column focuses on the effort information workers expend to get the information they need to do their jobs, assuming they have access to the Internet through a Web browser and/or access to email through their desktop computers or wireless devices. How do you measure effort when it comes to accessing and retrieving information?

More than five years ago, the president and CEO of Information Builders, a business intelligence software vendor, first discussed what is often referred to as the "clicks paradigm." By using the clicks paradigm, you can determine the difficultly or ease of accessing information based on the number of clicks it takes with a mouse to retrieve it.

How many menu selections, pivots, drags and drops away is your information? The more users need to know how and where to click, the more difficult it is for them to find their information. Is it one click away? Two clicks? Three clicks? Actually it is possible for information to be zero clicks away. If an administrator walks up to a worker every day at 10 a.m. and hands them a report relevant to their day's work, then the information could be considered to be zero clicks away.

In today's world, however, things can be more automated than such a manual process. If you assume that every worker reads their email as part of their day's work, then information that is automatically emailed to a person daily, weekly, monthly or whenever can be said to be accessible with zero clicks worth of effort. In effect, the information has found the worker as opposed to the worker finding the information.

There you have it. When information is emailed to a worker, the worker has arrived at their destination - the information they need - with little or no effort. This is how we want an information architecture to work. It should be able to support 30 to 50 percent of requests for information. The challenge, of course, is to ensure that the information in the email is relevant to each person who receives it.

Figure 1: Zero Click Email Report

Both executives and managers prefer automated delivery of standard information because it saves them time (something they have in short supply). An alert can also be put on a piece of information so it is only sent if a condition is met, for example: let me know if inventory goes below a certain point.

The next level of effort in the clicks paradigm is one click. It takes a conscious effort to retrieve one-click information. A user, aware that they need information, goes and gets it rather than wait for it to be emailed to them.

For a one-click report, the user logs on to a system (probably Web based) through the company's corporate intranet. Then they navigate to the report they want and click on it to retrieve the current version.

It takes time and a good design team to build a system with a logon process and navigation that does not inhibit the information worker. It is always possible to create a system that understands the user's role and preferences so information can be tailored to their needs.

At the higher click environments, the concept of clicks is more a comparison than a literal number. For example, a two-click report is what is commonly termed a parameter-driven report. The user will have options for customizing the report before they actually run and retrieve it. They might select a date range for the report or a line of business or a location such as the region, country or state. A parameter-driven report can have any number of variables, so the number of clicks is actually determined by the number of values the user needs to set.

It is still referred to as a two-click report because the vast majority of the report has been completed by someone else, and the selections merely filter the data that will be retrieved for the report. So, in effect, it is very simple for the user to make the selections and get a valid, consistent report without doing a lot of work and without being a technologist.

Figure 2: A Parameter Form that Generates a Two-Click Report

Three-click reports are typically created by another class of users. Remember the analogy in my http://www.dmreview.com/article_sub.cfm?articleId=1041222 last column about the people who drive cars and the people who fix them? A three-click report is typically run by someone similar to the driver who has a moderate ability to fix their own car; a person who is a bit more technologically savvy than the standard non-technical user. About 12 to 15 percent of the users in most organizations fall into this category. Again if you remember the analogy, they don't necessarily like the three-click process. If there is an easier way to get information, they prefer it. An information architecture, however, has to provide advanced capability to a number of business users who can help to create new information for the environment.

The idea of a three-click report is to provide a simple tool for the user to manipulate the data in their report, to perform what-if type of analysis by trying various combinations of sorts, groupings and filters to see if a hypothesis can be proven or a trend uncovered.

Lastly, there's four-click information, which users create for themselves - from scratch - because it does not yet exist. Very technical users typically handle this type of work. Their technical knowledge is similar to that of IT developers but they work in a business unit.

These users create information using a report development tool that allows them to have unfettered access to a view (or several views) of the data. The tool allows them to formulate a query, calculate new columns of information, and layout a report for consumption by themselves and other users.

The clicks paradigm may seem simplistic at this point but it becomes very important to the eventual success and acceptance of your information architecture as we move forward. When it is combined with the lessons learned in previous columns, you will see how crucial it is.

Finally, one last analogy: If you had a group of runners where 85 percent of them could run a mile in eight minutes and 15 percent of them were world-class runners who could run a mile in less than 5 minutes, how many of the combined runners will be able to run a five-minute mile? Obviously the answer is the 15 percent who are world-class runners. How many of the entire group can run a mile in eight minutes? All of them.

What we are getting at here is that by making information available as zero-, one- or two-click reports, all of your users will benefit.

In Figure 3, the large circle represents your entire information worker audience and the smaller circle in the middle represents the advanced users who can use a tool to create three- and four-click information. If you start a deployment from the outside in, that is zero-, one- and two-click reports first, you will be satisfying some (or all) of the information requirements of your entire audience. After completing this task, you can begin to deploy tools to the advanced users who still have outstanding needs.

Figure 3: Deployment of Click Report Strategy

This method will reduce the number of tools you eventually deploy since many of the advanced users' needs will be met with your initial deployments and you will find that most users will be sharing consistent information. You will also satisfy the information requirements of more users in a shorter period of time.


For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence, Enterprise Achitecture and Strategic Intelligence.

Kevin Quinn, vice president of Product Marketing at Information Builders, researches new technologies for acquisition or adoption and defines the strategy and road map for the WebFOCUS business intelligence platform. In his 22 years of experience in IT, Quinn has helped companies worldwide develop information deployment strategies that accelerate decision making and improve corporate performance. Quinn is also the founder of Statswizard.com an interactive sports statistics Web site that leverages business intelligence functionality. You can reach him at KevinR_Quinn@ibi.com.

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