Whenever we develop a new functionality of our tool, the end user - that’s you - is always at the centre of that process. With AI being a hot topic, we looked at other areas of our lives where it’s being embraced - and why it works there.

Enter the humble car sat nav. We can all learn a lot from a little cross-sector investigation. And, actually, our tool has developed in much the same way.

“The thing about Waze,” our CEO Erik van Heeswijk says, “is that it’s probably saved thousands of marriages.”

We’d add something less pithy, but just as accurate: the thing about Waze and TomTom and Google Maps is that without us even noticing it happening, they’ve become an indispensable part of our daily lives.

The reason why is simple.

These navigation tools have all created a frictionless solution to a problem that had been bugging the hell out of us. And, more importantly, because the solution is so efficient we’re happy to accept it and defer to its more precise, navigational prowess.

  • First we had maps, but you had to read them (best done by a passenger).
  • Then we had route planners, where you’d put your destination into a website and print out pages of directions (and who can forget the dizzying confusion of trying to keep hold of those pages after accidentally opening a window?).
  • Then along came Waze, and TomTom, and Google Maps (and countless others).

There could have been other things that SatNavs do. They could have shown how the average speed of vehicles on a stretch of motorway changes at various points through the day. They might have sent a notification about how many traffic jams there are nationwide in real time. They could even have pinged you notifications every time you passed a town, or a supermarket, or a soccer club.

But they didn’t.

That data was available, for sure. But is it necessary for what drivers need from a SatNav system, which is fundamentally to get from A to B? Nope.

Why’s no one freaking out about AI in sat nav tools?

What data can do, and what it does here are entirely different.

The development of these navigation tools is a great example of a successful and symbiotic relationship between tech and user: it excels at a specific, quantifiable task. These tools alert you to upcoming road closures or accidents, proffer alternative routes and update arrival times based on that information. They don’t show you stuff that’s happening five kilometres behind you, because you don’t need it. They work with real user needs, and strip away all the extraneous data and information around it, leaving what’s necessary - and what’s useful.

Data should inform a solution, not be the solution

Waze is an AI-driven tool. But while AI in the context of newsrooms is often rather an emotive subject, no one’s getting riled up about Waze.

Much of this is to do with trust.

We’ve learned from Waze that actually it can navigate more efficiently than we can - particularly if you’re driving on your own. We’re happy to use it because we understand our role is to drive, be alert, react and be safe, and Waze’s is to tell us how to get where we need to go. Sure, sometimes it might flip out because you arrive on a newly finished stretch of road and it thinks you’ve driven into a field, but that’s when the manual override kicks in: as drivers, we still have eyes, and there are still road signs, after all. Mostly though, we see that it’s reliable, improves our driving experience, and therefore we trust it.

What does this have to do with smartocto?

“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”

Frankly, newsrooms are still adjusting to the plethora of information that the transition to digital mhas brought. There were few insights beyond sales numbers when news was delivered in print. Now it’s online, we have more data than we know what to do with.

But we - you - don’t need all the data. We don’t need the maps, or the print-before-you-leave home directions. What you need is the data that helps you do what you need to do, improve what you need to improve, and get where you want to go.

Your role is to keep your eyes on the road, which is why notifications are absolutely integral to what we do; why easy-to-view dashboards are something we labour over; why we’ve invested so much in UX and consultancy: everything must serve the end user in a way that complements their mission.

We’re aspiring to serve our community just as Waze serves theirs. By having a very keen sense of what’s needed, what’s viewed with suspicion, and what’s easily adopted, we’ve developed a tool that’s fit for purpose. It’s what makes us different from everyone else in the market. We get newsrooms. We understand where the need is. We know where the trepidation is.

The whole user needs project is part of the larger idea that we have about data analysis: create easy to understand language for the newsroom, so that you know what to do instead of only knowing what's going on.

Stefan ten Teije senior content editor @ smartocto

We’re never going to be so bold as to say that we’re saving a marriage, or journalism for that matter, but we’ve created a tool that will stop you taking a massive detour around a point of interest five kilometres behind you.