It’s only been a few months since Tidemark, a bold Andreessen Horowitz-backed business analytics platform, emerged from its beta cocoon. But today, the fledgling company is introducing a new set of tools, aimed at helping businesses visualize their data in real time. "Business reporting is broken, stagnated decades ago, built upon stacks of dense, complex, and dated reports and dashboards that few people ever read," explains Founder and CEO Christian Gheorghe. "Data is nothing without context." The new feature—called Storylines—supplies visual context with a dynamic mobile interface.
Gheorghe’s business is based on a simple insight—that the so-called "consumerization of technology" is having a profound impact on enterprise, thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices. "You used to go home and expect to check your email in Outlook," he says. "Now you come to work and expect to see applications that are as simple as Facebook or LinkedIn." As a result, there’s a real demand for business analytics tools that have the same ease of use. And perhaps more importantly, more and more employees are actually interested in engaging with the data. Gheorghe says that typically, only 4% of employees use their company’s analytics tools—his mission is to increase that number to 100%.
The challenge, of course, is engineering a platform that’s intuitive and fine-grained enough to meaningfully engage the entire employee base of Tidemark’s target customers—enterprises with at least $500 million profits annually. Gheorghe and his team have spent the last three years building their product. Tidemark configures a company’s data by tapping into it at the source and packaging it in an incredibly intuitive iPad-based app (see Co.Design’s previous coverage here). It’s all real time, and it’s possible to drill deep into specific metrics to iterate on possible outcomes—a process that Gheorghe describes as "a continuous loop between planning a product, forecasting results, and understanding value." The immediacy and transparency is so comparatively drastic, you could almost compare it to the invention of the X-Ray.
Today’s new launch is quick by some standards—after all, Tidemark was still in beta in February. But it makes sense that Gheorghe’s eye would turn to visualization after conquering the cloud-based data management itself. Called "Storylines," the new tool is a set of pre-designed visualizations that pull data directly from a company’s backend, creating a dynamic graphic that illustrates real-time metrics. The first five templates are named things like "Overall Company Health", "What Happens If," "Forecast Variances," "Profitability," and "People." The templates were designed by Visual.ly, the online visualization marketplace that lets companies connect with a deep pool of design talent.
Storylines attempt to do for visualization what Tidemark is doing for analytics: pry them from the hands of peripheral experts and place them squarely in the control of employees. Say you’re in upper-level management at Chuck E. Cheese, one of Tidemark’s flagship clients. At the end of the quarter, you’d like to create a set of snappy visuals to present to the rest of your team. Typically, that would mean culling the data and presenting the final numbers to an independent designer or in-house design team, who would create a 1:1 representation of your conclusions. Storylines make it possible to change certain insights, experiment with possible outcomes, and forecast different schedules right in the visualization. For example, in a Profits storyline, you can drill into a profit map at the international, national, or state level, or parse the profits at a different date, or quarter, simply by changing the inputs on the screen. It gives employees the power to manipulate the data directly, at the touch of the screen—and it’s the future of data viz.
Gheorghe calls this "actionable" data, and he believes it will eventually become the norm as user experience insights from consumer technology trickle into enterprise. Eventually, Tidemark will also roll out a tool that lets customers create Storylines from scratch. "In this new world, you have to have user experiences that talk, that live, that are emotive in many ways," says Gheorghe. "Enterpise is learning from consumers, from the perspective of designing beautiful experiences, emotion, and things that are easy to use." The proof of concept? "There’s no manual."
A taste of a fully real-time Tidemark Storyline: