Dashboards and Data Viz

The difference between making good decisions and bad decisions is the quality of information used when making that decision. In many businesses today, decisions are being made based on data that is old or incomplete because there is no easy way to extrapolate data and communicate the findings in a timely manner.

Dashboards help aggregate data from various sources, display that data in a visual format, communicate the message behind the numbers and encourage action on the information that is presented. The amount of data generated today can be overwhelming. While “Business Intelligence” is a field that tries to make sense of the data, there is often a breakdown when that “intelligence” cannot be communicated in a way that is understandable, or data is stored in systems that fail to interact with each other.

How do we get real time data to stakeholders in a format that is understandable? How do we dig through the data to find outliers that need to be managed? How do we develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are common across the organization and communicated in a way that is understood by all – even when data is compartmentalized? In other words, how do we make Visual Intelligence out of our Business Intelligence? A visual dashboard takes information out of rows and columns and puts the information into charts and graphs that people can understand.

Frank Anscombe, the founding chair of the statistics department at Yale University, illustrated the importance of visualizing data prior to analysis based on research done in the 1970’s. Using four similar data sets, Anscombe developed what is commonly known today as “Anscombe’s Quartet” which shows the effect of “outliers” within the data set when put in to a graphic representation of that data. All four have the same linear progression line, but graph very differently.














Visual dashboards that take the information from rows and columns and puts it into a “picture” (or graph) assist businesses in finding disruptive outliers, managing them accordingly. For example, one client was using multiple data sources with no common denominator. Many people reported in Excel spreadsheets, with each department having their own database and their own Enterprise Resource Planning software, with no common reporting tool between the departments. They had no way to measure and monitor KPIs that were common across the organization.

By implementing a visual dashboard, the client was able to integrate their ERP databases and spreadsheets into a single visual format. They can now see common KPI trends, conduct “what if” analyses with those KPIs, ultimately making more informed executive (leadership) decisions because the quality of information is better.

Another client is pulling from their financial software, HR databases, Marketing (Google Analytics), Salesforce.com and other ERP databases, none of which are tied together. Their dashboards give them a complete “picture” of their business for the first time and are updated automatically with real-time data.

Is it possible to communicate these results in a multi-page Excel report of rows and columns? Of course it is; however, a visual dashboard provides an intuitive tool that spots trends, provides analysis and calls for action at a glance. Best of class dashboards are real-time, pull from multiple data sources and provide complete mobility so decisions can be made on the fly.

To avoid drowning in a sea of Business Intelligence (BI), build a dashboard and turn the BI into Visual Intelligence (VI). When your business is able to spot trends and make analyses in an easy-to-use format in real-time, you will make better decisions based on better information that will result in cost savings, clear communication and achieving standardized KPIs across the organization. Now that is intelligence.


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