Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Dashboard Lessons from “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”


5thgraderAdvice for using business intelligence to keep winning

I like to channel surf, and one day I got sucked into the game show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" I never watched it when it originally aired, but now I'm addicted! The show is set up like a school quiz, with contestants earning money when they answer questions correctly. The kicker is that the questions are based on things we learn in elementary school…things that are quickly forgotten since they're not tested in everyday life. Once I really got into the show, I realized there are business intelligence lessons to be learned from it.

On stage with the contestant are a few 5th grade students who can help if the person chooses to "cheat" as they pursue the $1,000,000 prize. Let's examine how each of the available cheats tells us something about BI dashboards.

Peeking is encouraged. If a contestant is unable to answer a question on their own, a "peek" allows them to glance at a 5th grader's answer and decide whether or not they would like to use it. How does that relate to BI you wonder? Think about the predictive nature of BI – it allows you to peek into what may happen in the future so you can take corrective action today. Especially valuable for businesses whose markets are volatile and sales growth may change from one quarter to the next, or for businesses whose production costs fluctuate depending on circumstances – predictive analytics, what-if scenarios, and break-even analysis eliminate some of the randomness from your decision-making. Luckily with solutions like arcplan, it's easy to add predictive elements like regression analysis and Monte Carlo simulation to your dashboards. So really, peeking on "5th Grader" isn't that different from modern BI.


Click to enlarge. arcplan directly connects to your data sources without the need for a separate repository or metadata layer.

Copying is expected. If a contestant chooses to "copy" a 5th grader's answer, they have to stick with whatever answer the 5th grader provides without being able to see it first. But by doing this, the contestant gets to access information not previously available. In the BI world, one of the most common frustrations we hear about is the inability to access data from disparate sources to get a holistic view of business performance. Too often, analysts and planners waste time cobbling together spreadsheets, awaiting reports from various departments, or worse – making decisions without all the relevant information. BI dashboard software can bridge the gap between your various data sources by copying the data into a central repository and displaying the information you need on a single page. But arcplan actually skips the copying step and instead directly accesses data from more than 20 sources simultaneously so there's no data replication or proprietary "universes" in play. This kind of real-time access enables faster, more confident decisions.

Relying on facts saves the day. On the game show, a "save" prevents a contestant from having to drop out of the competition because they answered incorrectly – if the 5th grader got the answer right. Gut instincts may lead you in the right direction, but making fact-based decisions is what really saves the day and drives the success of your business. I saw one contestant on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" learn this the hard way – in an attempt to answer the million dollar question, she made an incorrect choice based on gut feeling and ended up losing most of the $500,000 she had earned. When it comes to company finances, executive leaders cannot afford to make decisions based on gut feelings. I suggest tailoring your dashboard to track the KPIs that matter most for your role and choosing software that enables you to drill down further to answer questions about the root-cause of performance issues. Think about deploying your BI apps to mobile devices so you'll be able to monitor performance and get answers 24/7. And keep your dashboards simple so you get short, digestible bits of information like the game show questions, which attempt to be so easy that even a 5th grader can get them right.

After all, your business intelligence dashboard is your ultimate cheat-sheet!

Monique Morgan

About Monique Morgan

I'm the Marketing Project Manager at arcplan and work out of our Wayne, PA office. I'm originally from Jamaica but came to the US for college and I've been here ever since. I'm the voice behind a lot of arcplan's videos on YouTube - check them out here:
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