Business Tips | Dashboards and Data Viz | Data Strategy

In the late 1700s at the dawn of the industrial revolution, knowledge and information about machinery, processes, and markets was captured in books and ledgers. Accurately keeping track of operations, sales data, market conditions, and overall performance of everything from steam-powered trains to large printing presses was a long and tedious endeavor. While the industrial revolution continued to flourish and eventually gave way to the digital age, collecting and leveraging information continued to be a challenge. Compare that scenario to today, where organizations use data visualization to make crucial decisions quickly. Without the ability to manage data quickly, we might still be relying on steam engines. 

Today, data is arguably the most critical asset organizations own. This asset helps them discover and leverage new technologies, tap new markets, and maximize opportunities. With advanced computer technology, the ability to store and retrieve massive amounts of data, and the tools to make sense of it all, companies can create an end-to-end enterprise operational success platform to assist them in making key decisions. 

The rise and importance of data

As a society, we rely on data so much that the modern world couldn’t function properly without it. Today’s data is so big and complex that newer ways to gather, process, and understand it continue to be created. 

During the last 20 years, we’ve established terms such as “big data” and determined that we genuinely can’t live without it. Thanks to Doug Laney, author of Infonomics: How to Monetize, Manage, and Measure Information as an Asset for Competitive Advantage, we can define big data in terms of three V’s:  

Volume: Massive amounts of new data (2.3 trillion gigabytes) are gathered and stored each day via smart devices, industrial equipment, social media, and other methods. It’s estimated that 90% of the world’s data has been created in the last 2-3 years and companies spend upwards of $180 billion annually on data analysis.  

Velocity: The speed at which information and data is gathered and processed today is unprecedented, as organizations use everything from RFID tags to smart meters to collect large amounts of data in real-time. 

Variety: Data is gathered in different formats, including structured and unstructured. 

Two additional Vs to consider include variability, or the unpredictability of data flows, and veracity, or the quality of the data.  

Data is essential, not because of its size or volume, but because of what organizations do with it. Capable and competitive organizations can take data in different sizes and from virtually any source and analyze it to arrive at answers that allow for critical decision-making in various areas. These areas requiring critical decision-making include, but are not limited to, new product development, cost reductions, asset utilization, and time optimization. Trying to make decisions in today’s competitive global environment without proper data management is virtually impossible. 

Graphic design demonstrating how data strategy takes you from problem to solution

Visualization as a core value

Our business environment is often littered with catchphrases that sound good but don’t mean anything. This notion isn’t the case with data visualization. Using visuals, such as bar graphs, bubble charts, column charts, waterfall charts, and more, executives and key decision-makers can make sound business decisions at-a-glance. Data visualization also helps executives see the big picture while seeing specific components of an operation, whether they be trouble areas or bright spots.  

Data visualization provides information to different people at different levels of decision-making, helping them quickly identify and choose the proper course of action. Data visualization allows key decision-makers to run their business by incorporating curiosity and passion as a component of their culture. Visualization will enable organizations to dig into data with a curious mindset that fosters innovation, while organizations that don’t use it struggle to keep up. 

Visualization also helps an organization augment data literacy. A company’s ability to read, analyze and leverage data across its entire organization results in staff using data insights in their decision making. In this scenario, not only are executives empowered to make the best decisions, managers and analysts are equipped to make data-driven decisions throughout the organization. 

Brands using data and visualization to make critical decisions

Creating an environment where data and visualization are rooted in the overall culture of the organization results in key decisions being made that truly benefit the organization. Many ultra-competitive companies rely on data and visualization to help them make good decisions quickly. Many of these companies include: 

Starbucks

Starbucks, the giant coffee and food retailer with over 90 million transactions a week across 25,000 locations, uses a rewards program and mobile apps to gather critical customer behavior and preferences. This data gathering method allows them to learn as much as possible about their customers. As a result, Starbucks uses the data to decide product development, marketing campaigns, and seasonal promotions.  

Data also informs Starbucks about which customers have not recently purchased and the ideal promotion to get them back in the store. This information is then translated into Starbucks’ digital flywheel. This AI-enabled technology allows the company to engage with customers more personally regarding their product tendencies and purchase preferences. 

RG Barry

A leader in developing handbags, footwear, and foot care since 1947, RG Barry offers a wide range of products through retail stores and websites. When looking for a way to communicate information in a concise and impactful way, they determined data visualization was the best solution. 

Once implemented, RG Barry now makes data through visualization available to more than 15 sales executives weekly. In addition, the company shares dashboards with external stakeholders, sharing information regarding store information, inventory, and point of sale data. Once data and visualization were implemented, RG Barry was able to identify and take advantage of new growth opportunities for the company.  

The University of Maryland

A public research university offering 92 undergraduate, 107 masters, and 83 doctoral programs to more than 41,000 students, the University of Maryland is the largest institution of higher learning in the state of Maryland and the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. As a global leader in research, innovation, and entrepreneurship, the University of Maryland historically relied on spreadsheets for data reporting. Not only was using spreadsheets a laborious process, by the time the data was presented, it was already outdated. 

By leveraging the power of data visualization, the University of Maryland can now leverage data in real-time, pulling information from multiple sources and providing internal and external reports that provide a comprehensive overview across numerous areas. Decisions regarding academic offerings, faculty, class planning, student registration, revenue, and untapped opportunities are made more quickly. 

Leveraging data and visualization allows companies to capture data from disparate sources and display that data in easy-to-understand dashboards that provide insight and understanding at the micro and macro levels. Highly competitive organizations take advantage of the capabilities made available by leveraging data through visualization, while companies that don’t are unwittingly setting the table for unnecessary challenges and struggles.  

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