Big Data

Data dashboards: the big data silver bullet?

Image Credit: http://www.domo.com/
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The following scene plays out millions of times a day all over the world: A commuter is headed to work in her car. Keeping safe on the road is taking the majority of her attention. In fact, she’s blissfully unaware of the symphony of mechanical engineering that is happening all around her.

To keep the car moving, gas is being combusted in pressurized chambers to produce thrust to move the pistons up and down and drive the crankshaft. She doesn’t see any of that. Instead, she sees a visualization of that activity through the RPM gauge on her dashboard. The gas that is fueling the engine is being syphoned out of her gas tank and injected into the engine. She doesn’t have to worry about the level of fuel, because she can see how much gas she has right there on her dashboard via the fuel gauge.

And finally, she’s able to avoid trouble with the law and still arrive to work on time by maintaining an optimal speed, which is conveyed to her by the speedometer on her… you guessed it, dashboard.

Now, let’s remember this commuter as we examine another occurrence that likewise happens millions of times a day:

A CEO is sitting in his office.

He has 300 employees and his company produces small aluminum parts for model aircraft and cars. He is in the proverbial driver’s seat of his company, sitting in the office chair in the CEO’s office. Ensuring his company runs smoothly takes up the majority of his attention. Perhaps not as unbeknownst as the engine functions to the commuter, the CEO is aware that there is an abundance of activity going on all around him in his company. However, the data to measure that activity is not at his fingertips.

If he needs to know how production is going today, he’ll probably have to put a call into his factory foreman to ask for the figures. At that point, the foreman will have to email the data up to the CEO.

If the CEO wants to know how collections on the company’s accounts are going, he’ll have to walk over to accounting and ask for a report on the latest figures. Likewise, his queries to HR and customer service will be handled in a similar manner.

The way he is collecting data is rudimentary. If he was the commuter, he would be getting out of the car with a dipstick to check the fuel level. He’d also have his head out the window to hear the roar of the engine to estimate the RPMs and to know when to shift.

This analog method of data collection is why data dashboards are becoming one of the fastest growing segments of the software market. They take all of the data from a myriad of sources and visualize it in an easily digestible fashion. What used to take up the majority of senior management’s day is now automated and delivered in moments.

The improvements in efficiencies that this technology offers are plentiful. For instance, if a shipment of parts is delayed at the loading docks, this data can be seen immediately. Management could then make adjustments to the production queue in order to avoid a slowdown due to missing parts.

A sales manager could see the performance of his entire team up to the minute. That data could then be passed along to the C-Suite where marketing budgets could be adjusted in order to accommodate more leads for the sales team.

The possibilities are truly endless. Therefore, entrepreneurs and established businesses alike can benefit from this technology. With so many possibilities for reporting products, entrepreneurs can target a vertical, produce an innovative solution, and attack a wide open market. Meanwhile, the established business can identify a shortcoming in their data aggregation, identify a product that addresses that shortcoming and increase their productivity immediately.

Data Dashboards are not a new technology, but with more data becoming available and technology becoming ubiquitous through the use of mobile devices, the need for dashboards has become critical in companies large and small.

(Editor’s note: At our DataBeat event later this week, we’ll be featuring a talk by Josh James, CEO of Domo, and formerly of Omniture, about the big data dashboard that CEOs should be using to run their companies. Buy your ticket now!)

Kevin Lindquist has worked with many startups in Silicon Valley and Utah. He’s head of marketing for Decisions, a firm that helps create data dashboards.


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