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Tolling Points

IBTTA’s TollMiner Site Delivers the Data Members Need

By: 
IBTTA

When IBTTA launched its members-only TollMiner data visualization tool early in the new year, it was much more than a statistical review of tolling facilities and operators across the IBTTA network.

In some ways, the tool is a grand experiment in how to deliver the information the global tolling community needs most, using the tool itself to understand and synthesize users’ data needs—possibly before they’ve fully defined those needs themselves.

“IBTTA's goal is to consolidate, cleanse, and make useful data available, in one place, that might otherwise require users to search multiple disparate data sources,” says IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones. 

“The TollMiner™ data source(s) are constantly evolving and expanding,” he adds. “IBTTA is especially interested in learning what kind of data requirements various member organizations might have. We will be using feedback from members to drive the collection and presentation of additional data and types of data.”

For Database Manager Cindy Norcross, that process of discovering and serving members’ data needs is at least as important—probably more important—than the triumphant moment when the first round of content went live.

Moving Beyond Surveys 

IBTTA has long been committed to serving as a clearinghouse for the best available statistical knowledge on the global tolling industry. But historically, associations like IBTTA had no choice but to rely on member surveys to gather what data they could.

The surveys had the potential to deliver solid results. But the circumstances were far from ideal.

“Tolling is the kind of industry where every survey respondent is unique,” Norcross says. “So, a question might mean one thing to one person and something else to another. There was often a lot of ambiguity in questions and in the way they were asked, and some surveys asked for so much information that they took too long to answer.”

With Norcross’ guidance, IBTTA developed a streamlined approach: mine and validate public data wherever it’s available, supplement it by asking members a more limited set of questions, post a smaller volume of essential data as soon as it’s available, produce stunning visualizations that capture users’ attention—then learn as much as possible from that experience, based on what users say about the data and how they actually use it.

The Rise of Lean Startup Principles

The approach is built on Norcross’ background in  Lean Startup Methodology, a movement that began in Silicon Valley to create digital products that people will actually want to use.

“In the past, companies have frequently tried to decide what people want, as opposed to getting out of the office, really listening to their needs, and creating products that solve their problems,” she explains. “With TollMiner™, we started small, collected fewer data points, did it ourselves, and put it in a place where every member can see it, to increase engagement. We’re following the Lean Startup principle to build, measure, and learn, so that we can continually improve and evolve the product.”

The fast turnaround means the data gets into users’ hands faster, and the organization gets a quicker, truer sense of what will work. “We’re measuring the effectiveness of TollMiner™ by sharing it with people. Then we’ll measure how well we did and iterate again,” Norcross says. “Using this discipline, you spend less money because you’re building the tool in smaller cycles, and the feedback brings you closer and closer to what people want and need.”

The other key insight: Visualization is the key to effective data delivery. Many organizations put so much effort into gathering data that they run out of time and resources to optimize its presentation. But “once you put something on a map, once you visualize it, it’s mind-blowing,” she says. “It changes the paradigm completely, exposes new patterns, and gives people a more powerful view of the data. It’s so much more interesting for most users than looking at charts or spreadsheets.”

All Empathy, No Ego

Norcross points to the countless apps that are available for download, but are essentially extinct because no one is using them. She sees TollMiner™ avoiding that fate by following the same practices any organization would embrace for a conference or a traditional publication.

“When IBTTA plans an event, we don’t put out the program without first going through multiple drafts,” she notes. “Everybody iterates. But for some reason, people think data just comes out whole. Iteration is a meaningful way to create digital products that people actually need, as opposed to what we think they might need.”                                                                          

But to hit that standard, developers and designers have to approach the process with a lot of empathy and no ego. “You have to be okay being told that your baby is ugly,” Norcross says, quoting a principle she says is standard in the Lean Startup community.

“I’m not the subject matter expert here. Our users are. I can listen carefully and take a stab at what I think it might look like. But then we put it out there, we engage, and we learn what’s right and wrong. You have to have a lot of empathy, because you really want to encourage constructive feedback. That gets you closer, faster to where you want to be.”

Learn more about IBTTA’s TollMiner™ data visualizations.

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