If you’re in the business of data reporting, you know that playing to your audience is paramount. In other words, you have to know who you’re talking to and how to effectively communicate. In order to truly enhance data communication, you’ll need to take a second factor into consideration: You must speak not only your audience’s language, but also your data’s language. This is data optimization – the point where your audience’s expectations intersect with the best objective medium you can find to impart the information you’re sharing. In a nutshell, data is optimized when you summarize and display it in the best way possible.
Troubleshooting Data Optimization
Most people don’t like interpreting Excel spreadsheets; while tabular data is detailed and granular, it’s difficult to see the complete picture staring at cell upon cell of data. Data visualizations are far more efficient means of communication, because they are built on visual elements that require less cognitive processing. Comparing the attributes of these elements, by color, length, width, size, and more, is a pre-attentive task, meaning the viewer can distinguish areas of interest almost without effort. The best dashboard software offers the best of both worlds: customizable and intuitive visualization capabilities, and drilldowns that provide the nitty-gritty granular data.
The goal of data reporting is communication, and user engagement is the best way to tell you’re communicating capably. This means catering to your audience’s expectations while avoiding a data overload. Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your data reporting is optimized:
- Does your audience understand the information you’ve given them and why it’s important?
- Were they able to navigate your reporting and find what they needed, when they needed it?
If not you answered “no” or “maybe” to either of these questions, chances are your data isn’t optimized. This can mean one of two things: You’re missing the mark with your audience or you’re not using the right visualization and reporting methods to communicate.
Getting to Know Your Audience
Data reporting shouldn’t just answer users’ questions; it should anticipate them. The goal is to give stakeholders what they need before they ask for it, and the best way to accomplish this is to understand their goals, recognize patterns, and create reporting that accommodates these factors. Most of the time, stakeholder questions are closely related to each department’s KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), so if you’re looking for a place to begin the data optimization process, start with KPIs.
Consider the following scenarios:
- Has your CFO asked for granular tabular charts before? Add this information to your report before he or she asks for it.
- Does the head of your sales department want an overview of lead generation and marketing costs? Create a dashboard with this information so it’s ready before he or she requests it again.
With a dashboard, you have the opportunity to accommodate – and anticipate – these needs. By making high-level snapshots that relate to each stakeholder’s requests, you can provide the answers your audience will have before they even think to ask. Then, using intuitive drilldowns, your reporting can provide in-depth data to answer further questions.A #data #dashboard lets you accommodate – and anticipate – your audience's needs. Click To Tweet
Getting to Know Your Data
When it comes to data reporting, your audience isn’t the only thing you have to think about; you need to adapt your reporting to data itself, too. Simply put, you need to use visual elements that enhance each data set. Here are a few guiding principles to help you out:
- Don’t try to cram too much information in one dashboard; it should be an overview.
- Use negative space (the white space between visual aids) to highlight each metric.
- Use charts that compliment your data. (Example: Pie charts and sparklines serve completely different purposes.)
Read next: Top Charts & Graphs for Your Data
Think Like a Data Journalist
You’re a reporter after all, so think like a classic newshound – but instead of delivering awesome headlines, deliver relevant data. Once you understand who’s going to see your reports, you can understand what they need to know and, more importantly, why they need to know it.
The correlation between data reporting and journalism doesn’t stop here; just like a breaking news article, effective dashboards generally follow a classic “inverted pyramid” structure. This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to use pyramid charts in your dashboard. Instead, it means you’ll need to investigate the data and figure out what’s most important to your audience and follow it up with important details and contextual information. By creating layers of information with visual elements, drilldowns, and other tools, you draw users’ attention to the information they want and need to see first. Prioritizing your data may seem a little tricky at first, but reporting follows a natural hierarchy once you answer these questions:
- Who is your audience?
- What do they need to know?
- Why is this data important to them?
- When do they need the information?
- What’s the best way to deliver this information?
This line of thinking is much like investigative journalism and can help you uncover new correlations in your data by connecting seemingly unrelated data points that you – and your stakeholders – might not have seen before. Let’s say you notice performance metrics increasing in your sales department. That’s great, but you’ll need to know if you want to build on that success moving forward. By lining up your sales metrics with other departments, you can determine whether changes elsewhere in the organization are influencing sales.
What’s In Your Data Optimization Toolbox?
Reporting tools are the heart and soul of data optimization, and the best reporting tools allow you to communicate data with crystal clarity. If your audience is confused by the data sets you’re showing them, you might not have the right reporting tools – or you might be using them incorrectly. Here are a few ways top-notch reporting can help:
- It’s succinct and easy to understand
- It’s easy to access at any time, in any place
- It answers your audience’s most important questions
- It’s user-friendly, so your audience doesn’t lose interest
- It identifies future pitfalls so you can avoid them