Don’t Sweat the Data Side

iDashboards is the best option for customers looking to interactively visualize and analyze their data through the dashboards they build. When I am out training new customers, I always start out with my introductory remarks by telling the customer that once we are done with training, we will be building dashboards with their data. I want them thinking about their data and their metrics the entire time I am training them on the application.

Customers are always looking for guidance on how to structure their data. They are looking for advice on where their data is stored, whether they need a data warehouse before they can use iDashboards, whether iDashboards can be used to generate values instead of needing to go back in and manipulate the data, or whether they can automate the data extraction they are currently doing.

They are continuing to take adhoc report requests, extract the data requested into a local spreadsheet, and then manually generate those reports. Then rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.

These customers have a data conundrum and that is a big reason for their purchase of iDashboards. The irony is that iDashboards isn’t doing anything with the data other than visualizing it. It seems as though with their data conundrum they personify Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

With one customer, I built a dashboard for them in about two hours.  After finishing the build, there was a stunned silence throughout the room, until the data analyst/adhoc report creator finally said, “What you just did in 2 hours takes me 3 days at the end of every month.”  Then she continued, saying “I’m going to have to find something to do for 3 days at the end of every month now.”

I have had customers question which should come first – the data warehouse or the iDashboards server. On a recent phone call with a potential customer, they suggested creating their data warehouse and coming back to us after that was done. Problem was, their data warehouse was going to take 18 months to become available. 18 months?! And in the meantime, they will continue to waste countless hours taking requests for adhoc reports that need to be manually generated on demand.

And, I’m always mystified when someone will say, “well we don’t really have any data to work with.” Huh? Ok, your data may not be in order, but you’ve got data. Everyone has data. We live in an age when we’re swimming in data. So, I don’t accept a statement like “We don’t have any data.”

On another recent engagement, we had reached the point in the week where we had begun storyboarding and building dashboards. The customer wanted to break this into 2 hour intervals, kind of like speed storyboarding, with different department heads coming in every two hours. An approach that I had seen used before. This time, though, the first person in the room was the CFO.

When we got to the point of gathering data, there were no specific tables built for Financial Reporting. He was used to seeing data in income statement format or balance sheet format. So, when the Database Analyst said he didn’t have any views with the financial information available, the CFO’s skepticism kept ticking up. I jumped in and offered to create data in the appropriate structure so the CFO could at least see the visualization that was possible. The CFO scoffed at that idea and now fully inflamed in skepticism, got up and walked out of the session after only 20 minutes.

There is a happy ending to the story though, the analyst put together a table directly from SQL with real data and we built a sleek financial dashboard that we showed to the CFO at the end of the week. All skepticism faded and the CFO wanted more. The moral of that story is not to use the CFO as your first foray into building dashboards from data that exists, but is not ready for use.

Although, the moral of all these stories is don’t sweat the data side. There will always be data issues. Ultimately, the visual dashboards will expose data issues or inaccuracies and potentially assist in defining the data warehouse structure for that lengthy 18 month project. But, that should not hold you back from analyzing your metrics and making business decisions with the visual dashboards that can be built off any amount of data, big or small.

The time is now. Bring your data. Let’s build some dashboards.

Jerry Stowe, Technical Consultant

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