There’s a lot of discussion happening in the BI world right now over data visualization. On the one hand, you have analysts pushing the idea that data visualization = visual data discovery = self-service BI = advanced BI. I’ve seen Gartner and Aberdeen both touting the idea that data visualization and data discovery are the same and that they’re the key to unlocking analytics for more users in your enterprise.
On the other hand, you have organizations who think data visualization = dashboards. They want to present their data graphically, have some interactive capabilities like drill-down and drill across, and use advanced features like animated graphs and motion charts.
At arcplan, we offer our customers all types of data visualization, from sophisticated desktop and mobile dashboards to visual ad-hoc reporting. Today let’s examine some of the dynamic, interactive visualizations you can employ in your BI dashboards to enhance data visibility and tell stories that are more expressive than static charts.
Motion Charts for Trend Analysis
A motion chart is a dynamic chart that shows the flow of data across a dimension – for example, time. It’s a great way to look at large amounts of data at once to discover patterns.
For example, a sales manager may want to conduct a trend analysis for the company’s product line over the course of a year to analyze profits and losses for a set of product categories. A motion chart provides a more dynamic option than a table of numbers. By simply sliding the time bar along the x-axis, the sales manager obtains a visual of the fluctuations in the product categories over time. It’s the difference between reading a book and watching a movie on the same topic: though the information is the same, a visual aid allows some users to better absorb it.
Zoom Line Chart for Dynamic Drill-Down
Don’t be fooled by this ordinary looking line chart…
Sounds provocative coming from a BI vendor, right?
arcplan is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, so it’s safe to say we’ve seen it all. We’ve competed for business against every mega vendor and every niche BI vendor out there and we’ve seen companies get burned by vendors who promise more than they can deliver. Of course it hurts to lose a deal, but since our passion is helping companies get better insights and make better decisions, it’s doubly awful to see companies get duped.
So what can you do to ensure you’ll get what’s promised from BI vendor?
1) Ask questions.
The evaluation process is your time to ask questions of the BI vendors on your shortlist. You’ll be able to do this on discovery calls and during demos, and of course if you choose to go through an RFP process, you can demand answers to every esoteric question you can dream of.
Ask about the requirements specific to your business processes. Initial questions we’ve been asked include:
- Does arcplan allow export to Excel? (Yes, users can export to Excel as well as PowerPoint and PDF. With our Excel add-in, users can also work in Excel while remaining connected to the data source.)
- Does arcplan offer write-back? (Yes, write-back is standard and is based on the security rights you’ve set up in your systems.)
- How easy is it to learn arcplan? (Like any product there’s a learning curve, but arcplan is intuitive for users and simple for developers with our drag-and-drop, programming-free interface.)
Here are some additional questions to consider asking…
How BI facilitates a decision-making process that saves millions
At the core of every business decision is the desire to drive value for the company – whether that’s increased sales, higher margins, elevated profits, or return on investment. Decision makers should use all the resources at their disposal to drive this value, including their business intelligence software, which may include guided analytics (i.e. dashboards), ad-hoc analysis and collaboration capabilities that contribute to informed decision-making. Today I’ll explore how BI software facilitates decisions in a retail scenario. But this article isn’t just for retailers – anyone can extrapolate this information to their business to see how BI can provide concrete ROI.
arcplan serves a number of customers in the retail industry, including two of the largest grocery chains in the United States. Retailers are well-known for the small net revenue margins – on average, 3% across the globe for all types of retailers – which pose significant challenges on process controls and efficiency in supply chain decisions. One of the key areas of interest for all retailers, especially grocery chains, is the reduction of shrink – the loss of inventory due to product spoilage, waste, theft and other causes. It’s estimated to account for 2-3% of overall sales. Perishable shrink even goes up to 5% within a typical grocery chain. So for one of our customers, whose revenue reached $6.25 billion in 2012, a reduction in shrink of just 0.1% means $6.2 million to their bottom line.
So a simple question that would catalyze a decision-making process at this grocery chain might be: How can BI help reduce my shrink by 0.1% while balancing availability of goods and customer satisfaction? They would want to meet high customer expectations without over-ordering, which leads to shrink through spoilage.
In a perfect world, all of your organization’s planners would have superior analytics acumen and the financial know-know to create the best plans for their department. But unlike the photo that comes with every picture frame, there’s no such thing as the perfect planning family. Planners don’t necessarily fall into traditional groups like Financial Planning and Analysis (FP&A) or Management. Think about your marketing and sales directors – their primary function within the organization doesn’t require a finance degree but they are still expected to take on planning roles for their departments.
Non-traditional planning managers have their own special needs and thankfully, software development has come a long way in accommodating them – particularly planning software with built-in reporting and dashboard capabilities. If your planning solution supports data visualization, take advantage! By presenting your plan data in charts and graphs, you can focus planners’ energy on areas where they can make the biggest impact.
The underlying problem of many budgeting and planning processes is that data is organized and optimized for machines, not people. Unless you’ve had some formal education in this area, reading a chart of accounts/cost centers can be overwhelming. Understanding an anatomically correct financial statement can take years. Take for instance a physician or head nurse who is tasked to create a budgetary plan for his or her department – these individuals are trained to save lives, but probably cannot create a budget to save their own lives. The way to make budgets work for these types of planners is through smart data visualizations.
An ideal way to start visualizing content is to…
ROI, Customization, and Mobility
In my series so far, I’ve tackled questions about buying criteria, cloud BI vs. SaaS BI, and data management. Today is the last installment and tackles the remaining most common questions we hear from SMBs about business intelligence. This series is all about expediting and simplifying BI by dispelling myths and providing practical advice for moving beyond manual processes to automated reporting, dashboards and advanced analysis.
8) What’s the ROI for business intelligence?
This is a question we’re asked more often all the time, as SMBs know they need BI but struggle to justify the investment. BI vendors need to understand that SMBs can’t invest in solutions that don’t quickly generate returns.
Unfortunately, a large percentage of BI projects fail to meet the businesses’ objectives. I don’t bring that up to scare you away from BI, but instead to encourage you to ask the vendors on your shortlist for proof of their ROI. It’s part of your due diligence when it comes to selecting the right vendor. First, ask them about their success rate. Do they have happy and long-term customers? As an example, the average tenure of arcplan’s customers is more than 7 years, the longest of any vendor included in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence – an indicator of long-term customer satisfaction. How do the vendors on your short-list stack up?
The next step is to ask your vendor to estimate the ROI you should expect…