Navigation and context in your BI implementation

I wrote about the importance of navigation in any BI application, whether it is a report or a complex dashboard, in various prior posts. Recently, i realized that discussing navigation without mention of context is incomplete. When talking about context in the context (no pun intended) of a BI application, we typically refer to a drill point.
In a classic application, navigation is concerned mostly with pagination and directional orientation. However, almost any BI application also includes drilling capabilities. These are essentially filters that “pan” the user perspective around certain attributes. For example, a drop down box can be used to present a list of business unites, and when a user selects a particular business unit, the data in the dashboard filters to reflect only data relevant to this business unit. In essence, this drilling is also a type of navigation. To make sure your users are not getting “lost” and confused, you should consider both the classic pagination navigation, how to get from one screen to another, but also the contextual navigation, or drilling, and how it affects, or play off and in tandem with the rest of your application navigation scheme.
As is the case in any application, the key point is being thoughtful and thorough, and building to spec, rather than having a one size fits all design answer. With that said, while in most cases you will find that maintaining your user contextual choices is desirable while navigation across pages, that may not always be the case. In particular when you consider bi-directional navigation. As users move “back” to prior screens for example, should you keep newer contextual choices they made on forward screens, or revert back to the context that was applied on a page when they left it?
And one last thought on this topic: as always, the key consideration should be the user’s needs and requirements, and not some tool or technology capability. If you are designing a BI application with a tool that does not allow you a good level of flexibility around navigation and context, you should probably be looking for a different tool.

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