Sean Farrington, Managing Director and Regional Vice President for Northern Europe, Qlik, outlines the importance of intuitiveness in technology application
The recent unveiling of the iPhone 7 generated many varied headlines - the outrage at the loss of the headphone jack which, on the one hand, will encourage consumers to buy wireless Apple headsets but, on the other, will potentially reduce the amount of time spent disentangling headphone wires - to applause for the improved battery life and water-resistance feature. One thing that you cannot deny Apple, whether the new device resonates with you or not, is that it continually innovates and consistently pushes the boundaries of user intuitiveness. And that is something we should all aspire to.
Technology now is pervasive. Our toddlers know the touchscreen will react to them and which icon provides access to which content; our parents and grandparents are avid tablet users and online content consumers. The so-called group of 'silver surfers' has almost become a dated term as technology finds its way into our personal and professional lives. Almost everyone owns at least one smartphone and has one, if not more, online profile.
That said, despite this intuitive technology making in-roads, the actual technology that enables this smooth, swift and easy user experience is vastly complex. Where previous generations might have tinkered with radios or car engines to fix them and get under the bonnet of technical workings, existing and future cohorts will drop and replace devices as soon as they become slow or outdated.
This week's National Coding Week is testament to this. Despite our reliance on technology and technical solutions to drive our work and personal lives, few of us actually understand the inner workings or the technology that facilitate a wonderful user experience. The driving force behind National Coding Week is a dedication to training children and adults on their digital literacy and is to be applauded.
For me, however, digital literacy goes beyond coding and is not so much a skill as a cultural must-have that will be prevalent in future. Data is expanding exponentially and becoming the 'lifeblood of business' - referred to as the 'new oil' and more.
For me, digital literacy should encompass - or even be renamed - 'data literacy'. We are all already digital natives, able to pick up and use a smart device without having to read the instruction manual, capable of finding information online or buying something without even leaving the house. At work, fewer of us are using pen and paper, instead relying on our laptops and cloud computing systems to host the valuable information we are acquiring and using on a daily basis.
What not everyone has is the 'data literacy' required to "read, work with, analyse and argue with data" (according to a paper jointly published by academics at MIT and Emerson University). Only by interrogating data and information can insights be gleaned, organisational models improved and businesses made successful by embracing a data-driven approach.
Just look at some of the success stories out there - with Ryanair making its vast quantities of historical customer data available for analysis, it can tailor personalised offers to try and boost sales. Or cosmetics company LUSH, whose aim of making data analytics available to shop-floor staff, warehouse employees and manufacturing divisions, has driven savings of £1 million in the first couple of years.
The beauty of these stories, and many others, is that the level of data literacy required can be accessed by anyone, whether you're in the finance department of an airline, selling cosmetics to customers in-store or making decisions about where to invest your marketing budget. Because the technology used is influenced by the likes of Apple and other consumer-facing brands, made user-friendly, intuitive and accessible to all. It's increasingly important to provide not only dashboards to enable the analysis of key information and data sets, but to ensure this is visually appealing to the user.
A picture tells a thousand words - and when you can delve deeper into that picture, hone in on a specific data point and cross-reference with several others to give you a different view, that's when the whole story can be told and data literacy comes into its own.
I like to think it isn't so much about keeping up with the Joneses as staying in step with the i-Joneses. Apple reshaped the face of consumer technology - but businesses, and technology brands in particular, are doing their bit to move on technology, making it as all pervasive, intuitive and appealing to use as the latest Apple smartphone or smartwatch.
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