An Interview with Analise Thompson of Datagration

Man and woman interviewing

An Interview with Analise Thompson of Datagration

How do you build complex solutions for oil and gas that are so easy to use that training is almost unnecessary? That’s the question I posed to the Knowledge Manager at Datagration.


When did you last take a training course to use such popular services such as Uber, AirBnB, Expedia, or Amazon? Chances are good that you didn’t because these technologies are built from the ground up to be easy to use with no (or very little) training. These solutions set the bar for technology adoption for all industries, not just for the hire car, accomodation, travel and retail sectors.

Oil and gas solutions are no exception. Customers should not accept steep learning curves for new technologies, and suppliers of technology are differentiated when their solutions are easy to adopt. 

I’ve always wondered how ease of use is designed into solutions, and in a recent interview with Analise Thompson of Datagration, I discovered the answer. Annalise is the Knowledge Manager for Datagration, a technology company based in Denver Colorado.

Geoffrey  

What’s your origin story?

Analise  

I am a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. I have a degree in physics, and I have an engineering track in nuclear engineering. After I graduated the Academy, I spent over five years in the US Army, with tours in Central and South America, Guantanamo Bay and Afghanistan.

Geoffrey  

Thank you for your service! How did you go from physics and nuclear engineering in the military to knowledge management for a tech company? 

Analise  

After the military I joined a US major oil company, and in 2014, I transitioned to their training organization. While there, I learned a lot about how you train people and how people learn. I became a supervisor in that section, where I was training people on how people learn. I really loved this work. Eventually I moved onto major projects where I was placed in their digital group, but their training program was terrible. I didn’t understand the objectives of this training, I didn’t understand how to click through, I didn’t understand which module to work through. Eventually, I left to join Datagration, to live in Colorado and to pursue my dream. 

Geoffrey  

You’ve touched on one of the critical challenges of oil and gas, that the technology that people use is actually driven less by the needs of the human, and more to the needs of the asset. 

Analise  

I see that all of the time. For example, the Apple TV remote and the Sony remote both came out at the same time. The Apple remote had four buttons. Anybody could manage it. The Sony remote looked like a laptop. The Apple remote was designed for the user, whereas the Sony remote was designed by engineers and they just kept adding more buttons. Another example that I use frequently in my training role was Picasso’s bull. If you’re familiar with that, he draws nine different versions of a bull, removing detail with each iteration. Eventually he distills it down to five lines, yet you can still understand that it is a bull. That’s the whole intent of designing a training program and designing software that is easy for people to understand and use.

Geoffrey  

Is it fair to conclude that Apple put the smarts for what they needed you to do into their software, not into buttons, and engineers tend to put functions into buttons, and not the software?

Analise  

It’s easy to add buttons. What becomes hard is how to take things away. A lot of engineers think that if they add more buttons or functions, it’s going to be better. That’s not necessarily the case.

Geoffrey  

What happens in the minds of a person confronted with hard-to-use software? What have you seen as the barrier that constrains their performance?

Analise  

Some software is just complex, and will probably always be complex. But a user should be able to operate the software from day one after they get the training. The second approach comes from smartphones. Do you have a smartphone?

Geoffrey  

Yes, an Apple iPhone. 

Analise  

How much training have you had to use your phone? 

Geoffrey  

None other than a couple of YouTube videos. 

Analise  

Apple has made their technology so easy for anybody to use, even a child, yet it runs complex programs. It can order food from multiple restaurants, and have it delivered to you in 20 minutes. If you design something to be easy to use, you don’t necessarily need to be trained on it. Whereas a lot of times, you have an engineer designing the software, and he adds everything that you could possibly add. It’s not thought out for the end user. It’s thought out from how the engineer would operate it. 

Geoffrey  

Are videos better than manuals? 

Analise  

To be able to watch YouTube videos or if you’re quickly able to search and get the answer is much more useful than having to pour through a manual. Datagration lets you search our knowledge base and step-throughs for complicated processes. The right information is easily accessible. 

Geoffrey  

Does it all start with design? Can you take a poorly designed solution and make it easy to use? 

Analise  

Not without a major redesign. A much better user experience enables the user to take advantage of the technology. Good software designers always start with the user.

Geoffrey  

Did you see some of this back in the army work you were doing?

Analise  

Everything had to be simple. In Afghanistan, for safety reasons, you wanted to keep the local population away from your trucks. However, there might have been five or six different languages spoken in the region, so if signs were in one language, people may not be able to read it. The signs that went on to the vehicles had to be very descriptive. We went through a bunch of different versions. The first one showed a 6 foot gap with a person with a hand up to mean “stop.” But the drivers had people waving at them as they went by. That obviously didn’t work. There were a bunch of other iterations we worked with until we settled on the best design for the job.

Geoffrey  

What other experiences have helped form your view about training?

Analise  

In my training role I had an actual trainer who studied adult education. She made it a point to express that you should never assume anything. If you haven’t showed somebody how to do it, don’t expect them to know it. That is a good philosophy to have; even if it’s intuitive, I still want them to be able to go to our site and be willing to learn how to use DCA segments. I want them to be able to easily and quickly find exactly the problem they’re looking within one or two articles. They should be able to click through the database and find what they need quickly. 

Geoffrey  

What are the best practices to help you achieve this?

Analise  

I’ve reorganized the knowledge base a million times. When we hire new people, I’m glued to them for the first couple of weeks, both getting their perspective on the knowledge base and making sure they can find everything. We also send them through a program that I created that has skills and competencies tied to it, and then we get feedback. We’re always getting a little better with moving through as we change things around. I try not to just write things out, I try to include graphics as well, showing you how to click through. I think that is really important, knowing exactly what it should look like as you go through each click. I have to be very cognizant of releases for this reason.

Geoffrey  

Which team are you a part of then? Do you stick with the design team, or do you work with rollout?

Analise  

I am more a part of the rollout team. 

Geoffrey  

Who plays the role of challenging your engineers so that they don’t regress into the Sony pattern of ultra-complicated interfaces?

Analise  

That is part of our CTOs job. He has a team of user experience designers who will take what our engineers are drafting and then they storyboard it out and show it to us. We then give some feedback. 

Geoffrey  

Are leading companies embedding this user experience within the product design itself, not after the fact?

Analise  

Yes, it creates a barrier to entry. For example, consider your daily workout routine. If you work out every day, the barrier to entry is easier for you, because you have your gym gear out, you know exactly where you’re going to go. But if you want to ride your bike every day, not having it set up before you go is a barrier to entry to going out and riding. So, you’re not going to do it. The same is true with the technology. Me clicking the wrong button and getting the inverse of what I was supposed to get creates a barrier to using it further. Whereas if the software is simple, organized, you know that you can trust the outcome. 

Geoffrey  

Do you have much exposure directly with customers to get feedback from them on how the product actually works, or how the knowledge environment actually behaves?

Analise  

The knowledge base is set up so that I can get feedback directly from someone, or they can do it through the software and tell me if they like an article or content  or not. Providing even constructive feedback is difficult for people, it creates friction. If you’re just telling the software that this was not a good article, it’s feedback without the emotion attached. 

Geoffrey  

How are you monitoring customer feedback? 

Analise  

It’s part of the knowledge environment. I can track which articles are the top articles to go to. I’m not the subject matter expert most of the time, but I’m writing all the articles. I feel like it’s important for me to have that role because I’m not the engineer that designed this, I’m the one that can walk through it. If there’s an issue, I can find it, send it back to the owner and the owner can give me feedback. 

Geoffrey  

Where do you see learning development headed?

Analise  

I’m training individuals, but there’s a whole realm of organizational psychology, where they look at how organizations learn. I hope eventually we’ll go from the individual, to the user guide, to looking at how companies are interacting with software. 

Geoffrey  

Given that 80 or 90% of the technology in use in oil and gas predates user experience thinking, is there a retrofit opportunity here? Or are we going to just live with our legacy solutions for the foreseeable future? 

Analise  

I think that it has to be a financial gain; we are a capitalistic society. We need to tie financial benefits to improving the technology.

Geoffrey  

Who are you mostly seeing engaging with the knowledgebase? Is it an experienced junior workforce? 

Analise  

I’m dealing with the manager who’s putting his job on the line, and he’s scared. He has to be the believer, and he has to be the one that gets everybody else excited.

Geoffrey  

If you were to wave a magic wand and instantly make some changes, what would you fix?

Analise  

I would like to change the mindset in oil and gas. You have all of these senior project managers and engineers who are following a process, and the process is a known process. That’s how the person before you got successful, that’s how you’re going to get successful. It’s an old school mentality. There’s also hubris in oil and gas, where they think they can do it better. They see the software, and believe they can do it better given their experience in the industry. There’s also the risk factor. It’s so risk averse, even with technology. The risk of trying something new and having it fail. The pressure to go back to management and claim that the change didn’t work causes a kind of fictional story about what happens to take hold. That is a major change between my army experience and my oil and gas experience. In my army experience, if something went wrong, you tell your boss, and then you come up with three ways to fix it. He doesn’t look at it as if that was your mistake. He looks for improvements, for getting problems solved. It’s a constant learning environment in the army, whereas coming into the oil and gas, it’s all about the process. 

Geoffrey  

Is the military a better learning environment than oil and gas?

Analise  

They were willing to admit that they made a mistake, and train you on why they think that you made that mistake, so that you’ll never do it again. Oil and gas is a little more conservative about that.

Geoffrey  

In the military, is failure a positive?

Analise  

When you’re learning complex tasks, it’s good to fail, because then you’ll learn how to do it better.

Geoffrey  

Imagine there’s a young knowledge management person listening to this podcast. What would be your three pieces of advice to that individual?

Analise  

Read books. Go to conferences on knowledge management. Think about how you learn and think about what didn’t stick with you. Who was the teacher and how did they teach? Think about what classes you did. What did stick and how did it stick, and then start applying that to your training programs. Prioritize getting feedback, feedback is a blessing.


Visit Datagration to learn more.

Check out my book, ‘Bits, Bytes, and Barrels: The Digital Transformation of Oil and Gas’, available on Amazon and other on-line bookshops.

Take Digital Oil and Gas, the one-day on-line digital oil and gas awareness course.

Mobile: ☎️ +1(587)830-6900
email: 📧 geoff@geoffreycann.com
website: 🖥 geoffreycann.com
LinkedIn: 🔵 www.linkedin.com/in/training-digital-oil-gas

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