Relationship Reboot: Using Big Data to Predict Trends

Small-town businesses often have the luxury of developing a close relationship with their patrons. A patron may go to the same baker, at the same time, and buy the same jelly-filled doughnut each and every week. And the baker, knowing his patron personally, preemptively prepares that doughnut, and he may even make recommendations about certain croissants that the patron would like to try. And thus, this mutually beneficial relationship is built between them.

Up until recently, most modern organizations lacked the ability to connect with their clients on this level. Organizations were too big to get personal, and that potentially alienated a client who wanted the “baker-to-patron” relationship.

But with organizations now using big data, and actively putting it to use, this relationship is in the middle of a reboot. Not only that, but the future of big data allows you to understand the larger trends in the markets in your industry, helping you better plan out the future of your organization.

We Remember You
Utilizing big data, we are able to examine a wide range of structured info from clients, like purchase history and data from industry partners, as well as unstructured info, which includes preferences based on social media profiles. Not only will this information become more readily available, it will be organized in a way that can create useful profiles of customer needs, and in turn, provide action steps for optimizing and maintaining that relationship.

Monitoring the Variables
Within the coming years, organizations will also use big data to better understand how to analyze and manipulate trends for their day-to-day business. For example, according to Forbes, Delhaize America is already using big data “to study the impact of local weather on store and category sales,” showing them that warmer weather increases the purchase of magazines, while decreasing the purchase of certain grilling meats. What’s more, they retrieved and analyzed these results in just two weeks.

These practices can be applied to all fields, which is likely why 73% of organizations have invested or plan to invest in big data in the next two years.

Seconds and Inches Count
Operational efficiency is another benefit of big data. Teamed up with the Internet of Things, organizations can use this information to better understand how their products and services are operating. With cars, phones, airplanes and more reporting data, a wide range of information can be analyzed in real time, such as the product’s effectiveness, the amount it’s being used, and even the average amount of time before it needs required maintenance.

The speed of these processes will allow organizations to gauge long term trends in a simplified way, as well as make instant decisions to follow up and coming opportunities. As Sashi Reddi, vice president of CSC’s Big Data and Analytics group explains, “Big data will finally forge the last links of the value chain that will help companies drive more operational efficiencies from existing investments.”

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Why Marketing Dashboards Are Essential to Your Department

Marketing Dashboards

Today’s marketers are well aware of the increasing dependence on data analysis. Especially for digital marketing teams, there exists a never-ending stream of data available for every campaign that is currently running.

We’ve found that marketing departments are desperately in need of data management and analysis systems for several important reasons—and one of the solutions they are looking to utilize are dashboards. 81% of big firms now have a chief marketing technologist, according to

One of the main reasons that many marketers will be implementing some sort of dashboard in the next few years is to instantly have access to data. Being able to see your data the moment it’s generated is very powerful and allows marketers to update campaigns in real-time. Instant access to data and advertising numbers lets managers make better decisions and allows you to course-correct instantly.

A client recently shared with me how dashboards allowed his team to see that one of their geographically targeted advertisements had slowed in reach and response. The team was able to pause the ad, reallocate the funds and revise the advertisement to re-deploy at a later date. The availability of instant analysis on their advertising numbers prevented him from wasting money and time.

The most important feature of marketing dashboards is how they allow marketers to have all their data in one application. It is possible to have multiple data sources within one dashboard – whether it’s from social networks such as Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, digital advertising campaigns or internal budgets and campaigns. Dashboards can also pull in data from multiple CMS applications or Excel documents.

One unique component of our dashboards is the ability to specify the cadence of data uploads. For example, if your organization’s reporting is on a weekly routine, data can be pulled and updated once a week. However, if you need to see daily campaign numbers, the marketing dashboard data can be automatically uploaded and updated every day. This allows marketing managers to instantly see how all of their data is working together and gains valuable insights from disparate sources.

Marketing professionals today are also interested in the flexible reporting options that come with dashboard implementation. Dashboards can be accessed on laptops, tablets or mobile devices, so even if you’re not in the office, you can keep tabs on your budget and campaigns. They are also completely flexible and customizable, from the types of charts included to the layout of the dashboard and the colors used. Many of our clients enjoy the opportunity to customize the dashboards to their company brand.

A CMO I’ve worked with mentioned how much he depends on the flexibility of his marketing department’s dashboards. He regularly goes into meetings with one dashboard running on his laptop, ready to project, and several other supporting dashboards open on his tablet so he can easily reference his most recent data. This frees up his team from constantly creating new presentations and lets him share the most important results and insights with his peers.

Implementing a marketing dashboard takes the guesswork out of developing and updating campaigns. It allows a marketer to understand the progress of their work, and compare it to both the forecasted results and industry benchmarks. Dashboards give you powerful, real-time data and marketing insights to support your business decisions. Rather than saying, “I feel that this works,” you are able to say, “I know that this decision is the right one.”

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Designing Dashboards with a Focus on User Experience


OSKAR iDashboards User Experience

As technology has grown and evolved, a positive user experience has become a key differentiator and indication of a successful product. The feelings, preferences, beliefs, responses, and behaviors of a user, occurring before, during, and after use of a product define the user experience (UX). The way new technology, such as a dashboard, is rolled out to employees can make or break the entire enterprise.

When we’re helping clients implement their new business intelligence (BI) dashboard programs, there are several steps we advise our clients to take to ensure a smooth rollout process. By considering user experience at every point in the implementation process, we can work with clients and their employees to take all users into account.

Know Your User Groups
One of the first steps in a new BI dashboard initiative is to understand your user groups. Asking some simple questions is important. Two questions we encourage clients to answer are: “How can our users be organized into groups based on relevant data needed to make informed business decisions?” and “Who can perform what actions within the dashboard tool?” Within iDashboards’ technology, an administrator can organize all users into many different configurations of groups and assign roles to each user. This allows the user to only see the dashboards that are important to their daily decisions and metrics. It also creates a secure environment where one group isn’t able to view the sensitive data from another group.

The Link Between Initial Emotions and Long-term Adoption
Even prior to a product release, users’ feelings, beliefs and preferences make up their overall perception of a product. The initial emotions encountered by your user group will often define the overall success of the dashboard initiative.

If you want to encourage long-term user adoption of your dashboards or reporting, you need to actively accept input from your business users. We encourage clients to choose a few users to test their dashboards prior to the rollout to their entire group. When you accept input and manage expectations successfully, you’ll have created dashboard champions to sell the initiative to their peers. This internal selling will not only lead to a successful implementation, you’ll receive increased exposure and recognition enterprise-wide.

Use Audience Specific Designs
Would a dashboard containing similar data look the same for a marketing manager and a finance manager? No. They can both use dashboards for analysis, but will need different metrics measured. Therefore, they should see totally different dashboards.

Also, our dashboard software is business user-friendly, which means even your non-technical internal customers can quickly customize elements like chart types and colors to their liking. Offering this customization option will increase positive initial emotions among your diverse user base.

Intuitive Navigation
Every dashboard should be easy to navigate and understand, preferably without text guidance. If you feel data needs more explanation, your charts aren’t telling the story and you should reevaluate the purpose of the dashboard and the audience.

Always use specific dashboard features to deliver the data in an easy to digest format. If an explanation is required, try allowing users to drilldown to text for the specific area of focus. I’ve used this to show thousands of rows of survey comments sitting behind a single bar chart.

When a user logs in, I find customers have a lot of success when their startup dashboard is set to a homepage that acts as a dashboard launcher. Taking screenshots of dashboards and importing those screenshots as interactive elements within the homepage can provide employees with a great user experience. As seen in the example below.

User Experience Dashboard

Navigating an individual dashboard should also provide a pleasurable user experience. I usually try to include any filtering or elements that affect other charts on the dashboard within the upper left of the screen. Since most users are trained to read left to right and top to bottom, this is intuitive.

User Experience Dashboard 1

Once the user selects their desired filter, they’ll typically move to the top left to evaluate the data. I’ll often use an element like a blinking traffic light to attract their attention and guide their focus to the most important key performance indicator (KPI) on the dashboard.

Data Digestion
We’ve delivered relevant information and designed the dashboards for a specific audience, there’s internal buy-in and you’ve optimized the navigation to make the data easy to find – now how do you ensure users will understand the dashboard? We start by slicing and dicing the data into easily digestible chunks, using features to deliver a customized user experience.

iDashboards has several features to help a user filter the data they’re viewing. Users can start from a high-level overview of the data and drilldown to more granular levels. Delivering data in manageable portions enables users to better understand the underlying trends, focus on problem areas and recognize success through all levels.

User Experience Dashboard 2

When a business user wants to build correlation between datasets, it generally requires a technical resource to write SQL joins and provide a new report, which can take days to receive or require hours of Excel transformations. With iDashboards’ interactive intelligence, you can build charts from various datasets, do many calculations, and simply hover over an element of any chart to see how the metric relates to metrics showcased in other charts. With no programming or lag time, a correlation can be built instantly from siloed data sources.

How has your user experience been while using dashboards?

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iDashboards Roadshow Visits 4 Cities for Complimentary Seminars

2015 iDashboards Roadshow

The iDashboards team is traveling to four cities this month as part of the iDashboards Roadshow. Our Roadshow is a seminar that educates business and technology professionals on the benefits of and best practices for implementing and utilizing dashboards.

The iDashboards Roadshow will provide attendees with a clear understanding of how well-constructed dashboards allow users to better monitor, analyze and identify trends in their data. The seminar is free to attend and will include dashboard education as well as a 45-minute presentation on the “Lifecycle of a Business Intelligence Dashboard Project.”

There will also be a product demonstration and a Q-and-A session. One of the highlights will be a customer panel, where current customers of iDashboards provide real world stories and insight into their own experiences with dashboards.

For leaders looking for enhanced ways to make sense of their critical data and drive better business decisions, the iDashboards Roadshow is a perfect opportunity to see and hear firsthand about the power of dashboards. Dashboards help decision-makers understand their disparate data, and this presentation will not only show them how, but also provide real world examples from customers who have experienced the benefits of dashboards.

I’ll be leading the four seminars at the end of this month. We hope to see you at one of our Roadshow stops!

The iDashboards Roadshow will visit:

  • Boston, MA: Hilton Boston Downtown/Faneuil Hall, 8:30 a.m. April 27, 2015
  • New York City, NY: Hilton Times Square, 8:30 a.m. April 28, 2015
  • Philadelphia, PA: Hilton Garden Inn Philadelphia Center City, 8:30 a.m. April 29, 2015
  • Washington, D.C.: Washington Hilton, 8:30 a.m. April 30, 2015

For more information on the iDashboards Roadshow, visit


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Meet Your New Favorite Tool: The iDashboards Excel Data Assistant

Sometimes, the data in the Microsoft Excel spreadsheets you’re using to build dashboards just doesn’t flow easily into the charts. In fact, data is often not formatted correctly to be able to build a chart in the manner and the style you are looking for – while at the same time providing the needed functionality. Data manipulation inside the spreadsheet is often required to get the raw scores or numbers into a format that will offer a more complete picture.

In an effort to make data manipulation a smoother and simpler process for dashboard implementation, we are now offering the iDashboards Excel Data Assistant. This new Excel add-in offers customers the ability to do more direct and simplified manipulation of Excel data from any client machine. This means that tasks such as importing data from other formats into Excel, manipulating data and dates, as well as managing Excel named ranges can now be done in a more intuitive manner.


While working with our customers on a regular basis, both on location and over the phone, we are often asked to assist with the process of getting their data formatted correctly to prepare for dashboard building. The iDashboards Excel Data Assistant can help any Excel user make the process simpler, allowing for a more successful and functional finished dashboard.

This tool is now available for download from the OSKAR portal. It can be simply installed on any client machine with Excel already installed by running the downloaded installer and then opening Excel and clicking on the iDashboards tab.

Have you used the iDashboards Excel Data Assistant yet?

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Big News for Big Data in 2015


With a growing number of organizations using multiple data sources as part of their daily business, 2015 is quickly becoming the year of “Big Data.” Growth is the only certainty; terabytes are now small change compared to the petabytes and the exabytes (and beyond), so in order for users to structure their own data blends, a slew of new resources are appearing on the market.

Data Visualization
Previously, big data could only be understood (and perhaps appreciated) by data scientists, which left other employees and clients – who also needed to evaluate that information – out of the loop. These earlier tools were also known for being time-consuming to curate while essentially lacking structure. As a result, businesses have been spending copious amounts of time and resources wrestling with data, rather than analyzing it and using it to improve their ROI.

Throughout 2015, data visualization will grow in importance. Creating an intuitive dashboard is an essential next step for sifting through big data, allowing users with multiple professional backgrounds to spend less time preparing data and more time analyzing and understanding it.

Silver Linings on the Cloud
According to a Gartner survey, over 55% of CIOs suggested they would be hosting their companies’ entire group of critical apps in the cloud by 2020. With an ever-expansive amount of data being stored on the cloud, the question of security will become even more imperative over the next year. Traditional security, which is typically complex and buried in your infrastructure, can get in the way of growth or quick, real-time decisions.

Putting Big Data to Work
Up until now, big data has functioned like a chaotic shot in the dark: companies have been virtually grasping at straws in hopes of finding information that is useful. In the coming year, the focus will shift to not only analyzing valuable information, but also on utilizing that information to increase returns. In essence, turning that data into business intelligence dashboards.

With the explosion of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), personal technology will bridge the gap between the company and the client. This will include actionable insights, such as having your SUV send reminders about oil changes, or your favorite vending machine making new recommendations according to your previous choices.

2015 will be less about collecting data, and more about putting it to work.

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Higher Education Dashboards Make the Grade for Reporting

iDashboards Higher Education

“Reports” is a vague word these days.

It’s common for administrators at an institution of higher education to inquire about “reporting” tools and their interest comes from a variety of different places. Pressure to produce accurate reports can come from the board, accreditation organizations, system office, Deans, parents, donors or alumni. It also stems from a lack of relevant information about how well administrators have progressed toward realizing strategic planning goals. Many institutions have settled for antiquated tools and methodology, resulting in numbers and information with different versions of the data.

If you were to ask two different cabinet members about the current enrollment this week versus last year, chances are you’ll hear different answers. And, most likely, you’ll hear a number of questions before a shaky answer comes out. “All students or just Full Time? Online learners too? What about our Part Time students? What about Awards or Certificate students? Do we count those as Part Time?”

So let’s fast-forward to the part where it has been determined that “We need insight into our data for better and more accurate decision making!”

Sounds good, right?
The next logical step is that a committee is formed, comprised of executives, data champions, IT & IR, key faculty and additional administrative employees. Many educational organizations want to include opinions and expertise from all areas of campus. It is important to understand who all the stakeholders are and what they want out of the available data.

Still sounds good, so far.
Committees from higher education institutions should address what’s important to monitor, who should have access and what capabilities different people should have with the “reporting” tool. In many instances, IT and IR departments typically start looking in the market for industry leaders and possibly talk to peers in their network about what reporting tools they use on their campus.

Sounds like we are making solid traction, right?
Now it’s time to test the different reporting tools. During product evaluations, the project managers will see many differences in these tools. The most glaring difference is the distinction between “reporting” tools and dashboard tools. Many systems have different core competencies and, sure, there is some crossover functionality, but the truth is that any reporting tool with a charting add-on or component is going to be too limited and won’t sustain heavy editing. Any dashboard tool that claims to have an enterprise ready, ad-hoc reporting tool to satisfy all reporting needs may not be representing itself as accurately as one would hope. A tool that works wonders for one campus might become “shelfware” on another.

What do we need?
It’s all about what your needs require. People use the word “report” interchangeably and it can mean a number of different things. “Reports” could be dashboards, spreadsheets, summarized data, KPIs, or scorecards…

Do you want a 30 second, at-a-glance tool that users can quickly access without requesting anything from IT or IR? Implement a higher education dashboard. Do you want a data analyst to build queries, summarize it and send out those people in a .pdf? Well, a reporting tool might just be a fit. What a number of higher education institutions find is that they need more than one tool in their business intelligence (BI) toolkit. Chances are you need both reporting and higher education dashboards for different users and audiences.

OK, so we need both. Now what?
One vendor will not satisfy an education institution’s needs for predictive modeling, ad-hoc reporting, dashboards, warehousing, data manipulation and so on. Some of the big BI companies claim to have modules to satisfy these needs. After a few years of potentially heavy IT and consultant development, often upwards of a $1M investment, late nights, countless lost weekends and missed deadlines, most higher ed institutions will seek out the specialized tools that focus and deliver on what they do best.

Where do you get your sushi?
I always go to a sushi restaurant when I’m craving spicy tuna rolls. It would be nice if within the same restaurant, my friend could order a top-notch cheeseburger and we could have Italian gelato for dessert. Unfortunately, this magical restaurant only exists in my culinary dreams. The most successful sushi restaurants aren’t the greatest at making cheeseburgers or Italian cuisine. They solely focus on what they do best and perfect it.

The same goes for reporting tools. It makes sense to use an organization for your higher education dashboard and reporting tools that is an expert in the field. It is important to trust your critical data to the masters – quality matters in reporting, just like in sushi. It may take bit of extra attention up front, but using a few different and strategic tools in your BI toolkit will set you up for a successful business intelligence dashboard initiative.

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March College Basketball Madness Comes Alive with Dashboard Technology



At iDashboards, we’ve been counting down the days until Selection Sunday and the official kickoff to March Madness. To celebrate the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, we’re launching our March Madness dashboard on March 16.

The dashboard offers college basketball fans in-depth insight into the participating teams’ statistics throughout the tournament. Some of the stats you can explore include season average points scored per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point percentage, blocks, rebounds and more. We also feature an interactive map illustrating where each team’s school is located, and graphs displaying total wins versus total losses during regular season play.

Our complimentary March Madness dashboard offers sports enthusiasts a really fun and unique way to enjoy every game throughout the tournament and get into the statistics on a deeper level. We create the dashboard annually and think it’s a great way for fans to understand the power of data visualization and the ability drilldown into critical data. Just like dashboards can help you make better business decisions, they can also help you make better bracket decisions for March Madness.

March Madness fans can access the dashboard for free at beginning March 16. Stats and data for each team will be updated throughout the progression of the tournament.

What team are you rooting for during March Madness?


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Are You Experiencing Smartphone Dashboard Overload?


Data visualization dashboards have a lot of uses for different situations, but the goal is always the same—to provide insight into key data at-a-glance, with the ability to drilldown into the details as needed. For example, think of the information that is important to you personally.

The dashboards that I use most often are actually on my smartphone. A dashboard is, after all, a place to show the data that is most important to you and that is what my cell phone screen does. My smartphone (after much trial and error) has two screens and three dashboards that show me information I have identified as important for my day.

My first two smartphone dashboards show sports scores, family events, birthdays of friends and more. The third one, however, is my notification center, which alerts me to new emails, missed phone calls, date, time, weather and more. This allows me to take immediate action based on what I see. For instance, when I look at the notifications on my smartphone dashboard and see the weather, it helps me decide if I should wear a polo shirt or a sweater.

Much like I condensed and organized my smartphone dashboards based on what information was most important for me to see at-a-glance, business decision-makers need to decide what data is most important for them to see in a dashboard. We have all kinds of data from many different sources available to us. We need to decide what the focus of each dashboard is. Once we decide the focus, we will be able to figure out the information that means the most to us.

What data will help us make the best business decisions? We probably do not need to know all the details of every appointment we have, but rather just knowing that we have things planned is good enough. We can always drilldown into enhanced details when we need to.

So, the next time you are looking to build a dashboard, just think to yourself: what is going to help me make the best business decisions? After you decide what data you would like to see, think about what the story it is telling. If the story makes sense, can you get to the details, or data, that make that story? If so, it sounds like you have a great start to a very powerful dashboard.

Have you created smartphone dashboards? What stories do you tell on your mobile device?

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Why Use Healthcare Dashboards to Track Data?


The healthcare industry is increasingly dependent on accurate, timely data in order to meet government standards and work towards improvement goals. Many hospitals, surgical centers and emergency services providers have unique needs and a complicated organizational structure, which means there are many people who need to understand many different sets of data.

Risk management and service quality are considerations with uniquely serious ramifications in the health care industry. The stakes are high when it comes to patient outcomes; and with compensation tied directly to certain industry key performance indications (KPIs), there is a vital need to provide practitioners with rapid and actionable insights.

There is no shortage of data in the healthcare industry. But there is a shortage of understanding and contextualization of the data being collected.

How can we help find the important connections that exist between disparate data sources? How can decision-makers at healthcare organizations drilldown into their data more efficiently and effectively to make better business decisions?

Healthcare dashboards provide a visual centric method for contextualizing data, increasing the visibility of and emphasis on KPIs while promoting transparency within a hospital of healthcare facility.

Examples of healthcare dashboards we have designed for clients and metrics measured include:

  • Clinical Dashboards can be used to measure nursing unit censuses, current patient loads for emergency rooms and bed occupancy rates. These dashboards can also help you track public health outbreaks, like the current flu epidemic, to better plan staffing needs.
  • Hospital Dashboards assist your organization in tracking admissions and ER wait times. These include dashboards that highlight departmental spending, quarterly income and cost of care, helping everyone in the hospital work toward financial goals.
  • Patient Dashboards make it possible to see the average length of stay for patients, total numbers of current patients and lab turnaround time.
  • Physician Dashboards can help physicians track their number of patients, patient satisfaction and number of new patients, all in real-time.
  • Quality & Risk Management Dashboards can help monitor and simplify complex compliance issues. These dashboards assist you in managing core quality metrics, patient safety data and comparing internal performance versus industry benchmarks.

By implementing data visualization healthcare dashboards, employees in various positions can all access the same data and understand how it affects their department. In a complex industry like healthcare, being able to make more informed decisions is a vital part of a successful business strategy.

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