Guest author Martin Reynolds is application architect and development manager for the Advanced Computer Software Group. Visit Martin’s Member Page on the New Relic Community Forum.

During the beta phase of New Relic Insights, I was interviewed for a blog entry on Advanced’s use of the product and its rapid adoption in our business. Since then, we have learned a number of lessons about how best to employ New Relic Insights for our non-technical staff—specifically, how to provide non-technical users with meaningful dashboards, which help them quickly answer relevant questions for their role.

Thanks in part to these best practices, we now have users of Insights coming from across the company, including

  • Senior management team (including the managing director)
  • Account management team
  • Customer success team
  • Technical pre-sales
  • Product management
  • Support
  • Development

Here are seven tips to making Insights useful to every member of your organization:

1.   Understand the question

This may seem obvious, but often the questions we are asked to provide information for are not actually the root questions that need to be answered. Make sure you ask follow-up questions so that when you add new data to an existing dashboard or create a new dashboard, you don’t have to rework it to meet the users’ real needs. Spending 10-15 minutes at the start to understand the requirements can save you several hours of rework down the line.

2. Put it in context

Make your dashboards targeted and meaningful. One dashboard with information on 10 different parts of your application will rarely meet your users’ needs. A series of focused dashboards with the relevant data is much more likely to be used and to answer the questions you are being asked. Pro tip: Make sure your dashboard has a meaningful title so users know what they are looking at.

3. Use the notes field

When you are displaying information to non-technical users, it is important to provide a good description of what the data is showing. As far as I am concerned, the data displayed in a dashboard is a report (a set of static data without meaning or context) until you give it meaning by adding a relevant description of what the data shows.

 

reports failure tracking screenshot: New Relic Insights

 

From a selfish viewpoint, using the notes field means you and your team won’t share a dashboard and instantly be bombarded with questions about what you are sharing.

4. Use ‘AS’ to make data relevant

We quickly learned that using names that our users understood saved us from having to answer a lot of questions about what the data means. For example, we have an application in the education space where we map “school name” into the “account” field in the Transaction and PageView collections. For our users, an “account” field makes no sense because they see our customers in terms of “schools,” not “accounts.” The simple change in the dashboards to display “account” as “school” stopped many questions.

 

schools per week chart: New Relic Insights

 

5. Use custom metrics

Where appropriate, push custom metrics into your data. This helps by not only giving you a broader dataset to analyze, but, more important, by making it more meaningful to your users. We found that adding custom metrics especially helped non-technical users and allows us to pull information about how the application is used in a much more meaningful way.

6. Link dashboards for drill down

One of the most useful features we have found in New Relic Insights for non-technical users is that it gives them the ability to drill down into the data. Insights facilitates this by providing the ability to link dashboards on key data items.

Again using our education application as an example, an account manager might start at the service-level dashboard, which includes a list of schools that have the highest throughput, are suffering worst performance, etc. From that dashboard they can drill down into specific data about that school, users in that school, and poorly performing transactions. They can then drill further into stats about individual transactions that let them know if it is specific to a customer or a more general issue.

7. PRRR: Present, Review, Refactor, and Republish

The key to making your dashboards successful, relevant, and usable is by making sure they “PRRR.” We have found that following the PRRR process keeps the interruptions for information to a minimum:

  • Present: Once you have built your dashboards for a set of users, hold a session to present them to the users and explain how to use them. Because Insights is so intuitive, you probably won’t need more than 30 minutes.
  • Review: Hold a session every four to six weeks to ensure that users have the data they need and that the dashboards answer the right questions.
  • Refactor: After each review, update your dashboards to reflect any missing or additional requirements.
  • Republish: After making the changes, have a quick 10-15 minute update with the target audience to fill them in on what’s new.

Summary

While not a complete list, these practices have really helped us use New Relic Insights to spread valuable information to a broader audience in the business.

Just as important, it has helped to reduce the amount of time we spend answering questions about our applications and how they are used. It also helps our teams to be proactive with customers, and better understand where they face challenges.

I hope you find them useful!

 

Lightbulb illustration courtesy of Shutterstock.com.

Guest author Martin Reynolds is application architect and development manager for the Advanced Computer Software Group, a leading provider of software and IT services to the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, based in the United Kingdom. View posts by .

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