We’re very excited to announce the release of Boards, one of two big changes coming to Transform. We spoke to Rahul, one of our product managers, who was responsible for driving Boards, to dive a bit deeper into the concept behind such a huge change to our product.
So Rahul, why did we decide to build out Boards in Transform and how are they different from what is on the market today?
Rahul: Dashboards are a fundamental piece of a company's way to interface with data. Any organization that uses data to inform their decision-making will use Boards to watch and manage collections of metrics and take action on their observations. What we're doing with Boards is filling in gaps that exist in the market today.
I think those gaps fall into two main buckets. The first is that some business intelligence (BI) tools today prioritize a high degree of flexibility which inherently makes interfacing with data less approachable for less technical people at an organization who want to use data to inform their decisions. That class of BI tool is focused more on addressing the needs of more technical people in an organization: your data engineers, your analysts, your scientists, etc. The second gap is that you have BI tools with clean and easy-to-use interfaces but lack a governance layer, so the data you interact with is susceptible to inconsistencies which is a concern because you want people to be confident in making decisions off of that data.
We saw an opportunity to create Boards with a focus on addressing both of those gaps, where we come in with a more opinionated view around what users should be able to do. Our focus for the future is to build the set of functionality that serve the most important needs of more technical people and more business-focused people alike while leveraging the power of our metrics layer, MetricFlow—giving users the peace of mind that they don't need to doubt their data and dashboards. They can trust that their data is governed, version-controlled, and blessed by their data teams so they can simply focus on answering their questions and making better decisions.
Awesome! Yeah I think it totally makes sense that we're straddling the line of empowering flexible querying and content, while also providing a very intuitive UX. Accomplishing both of those things are really hard to do. So I'm wondering, when we thought about Boards and who specifically it was designed for, how did we think about the different workflows that we were looking to enable?
Rahul: I think while there are a bunch of personas for Boards, the workflows can be abstracted into two main ones.
The first workflow is the experience of watching groups of metrics and how they change which is really the consumption side of Boards. The second is the actual curation of groups of metrics and queries as Boards, involving those who author and are responsible for presenting information to the first group.
The primary person responsible for creating dashboards within organizations today is the business-focused analyst, someone who has one hand in the business side of things and one hand in the nitty-gritty technical side of things. They spend hours dealing with dozens of dashboard requests and with the current tools out there, it takes them a long time to complete this work. So we want to focus on making their lives easier first and then work up the chain, where we make it even easier over time for other people who might be inclined to to create these dashboards as well.
On the consumption side, there are so many people—ranging from more technical people like data scientists to executives like the CEO—who care about dashboards. In the spirit of Transform’s mission to make data accessible to everyone, we want to make it easier for all of these individuals to get value out of their data. We want to create a safe, approachable, and elegant interface for users to watch groups of metrics and queries they care about and slice-and-dice them without writing a line of SQL.
What are the main components of Boards?
Rahul: Boards allow users to watch, manage, and report on collections of metrics they care about for themselves, their team, and their company. There are a few core components to our first iteration of Boards. The first is a clean drag-and-drop interface where users can search for metrics already defined in Transform and easily drag them onto a Board. Another really neat product in Transform is our Query interface which allows you to build safe, MetricFlow-backed queries from metrics—so users can add those saved queries to their Boards as well.
On top of this, there are a range of filtering capabilities and chart types. Users can filter metrics and queries by shared dimensions and look at certain values or time ranges via a global filter bar. Users can also toggle the metrics and queries on their Board to different chart type visualizations, including line charts, bar charts, area charts, single numbers, and tables.
The last main component is the Boards homepage, where you can easily find Boards you’ve created, favorited, recently viewed, and all other Boards across your organization.
What aspect of Boards are you most proud of? What was the hardest or most gratifying piece, or like just the most fun aspect of coming up with boards?
Rahul: I think the exercise of just thinking about the question from the ground up of, “how can we provide a really intuitive experience that saves people time but also makes it fun to create Boards?”. I feel like making experiences a little more fun goes a long way when you do these things, every day, day in, day out. When users spend time doing repetitive tasks it should be an enjoyable process.
One aspect of Boards I’m particularly proud of is our attention to detail with the drag-and-drop interactions. When you drag a metric or saved query to a Board, you can resize the chart tiles. But it's not just re-sizable from one corner. We have this cool little indicator that shows you can resize the tile from all four corners. It seems like a very small thing, but it's actually quite convenient and ends up saving you a lot of time formatting the chart tiles on your Board. I'm just proud of our attention to detail there—I think it's easy to overlook those things and just focus on the super high level stuff.
Last question: what's coming next for Boards, and how does this tell the story of BI with Transform?
Rahul: I want to see Boards become a highly collaborative environment for people to have data conversations with other members of their organization and make it a sort of presentation layer for interacting with objects like metrics and queries. I think this is a huge gap that's lacking in organizations today—a place to have those conversations and to store institutional knowledge around why things are changing and what decisions have been made in the past. A lot of times you have those conversations in the context of multiple metrics, so Boards is a really perfect interface to enable more of that collaboration.
We’re really excited to continue to solve problems that go deeper in the direction to enable self-serve. Self-serve is a word that's starting to get thrown out there a lot, so I think coming in with our opinion of what that means will be very important, and I think we were going to do a great job of highlighting that through how people interact with Boards and Query and the rest of our application.
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