In my previous post on this topic, I covered why planning visualizations are important for an audience of planners without finance backgrounds: they prioritize content and separate the signal from the noise so planners know at a glance what areas of the plan need their attention. Today I’ll underline the importance of using the right chart types to tell your plan’s story. The idea is that visualizations should enable planners to prioritize the largest areas of their plans and see exactly what parts need adjustment, without forcing them to read anatomically correct financial statements or have a deep understanding of planning terminology.
Particularly, the term “variance” can be incredibly confusing to non-finance department heads who are tasked with managing budgets. Variances of actual spend compared to the budget are either positive or negative, indicating which direction the line item deviates from the plan. In general, being under budget is a positive variance, and being over budget is a negative variance. But things get weird when you’re looking at expenses vs. income and it’s hard for regular planners to make sense of it all. So the best way I can think of to help non-finance planners understand their plan performance better is to simply use terms like “favorable” and “unfavorable” instead of “positive” and “negative” (i.e. “you’ve got an unfavorable variance for airfare because of the unplanned training course in Las Vegas that your whole team attended”) and to introduce planning visualizations that simplify complex concepts like variances.
Horizontal Bar Graph
A horizontal bar graph with red and green bars is an ideal visualization for a budget statement because it’s straightforward and eliminates confusion. In the example here, the budget categories are prioritized from most unfavorable to most favorable. We see that relocation and airline expenses are the most unfavorable – they’re the most over budget – and they are emphasized by being in red at the top of the graph. But reallocating funds from the most favorable categories – incentives and salary – can alleviate the problem. Incentives and salary are the most under budget; we’ve spent less than we’ve planned and there may be funds that can be moved to the relocation and airfare categories.
The horizontal bar graph visualization tells the story of which items are doing well, which items are doing poorly, and makes it obvious where adjustments can be made.
Waterfall or Bridge Chart…
Our Senior Vice President, Dwight deVera, has been featured recently on CMSWire and Business2Community, giving tips on how to use responsive design for your mobile BI applications. Check out these pieces and let us know what you think!
Mobile App Responsive Design Best Practices
“For mobile BI, we’ve found that responsive design is best,” deVera said. “We call our philosophy DORA. Design once, run anywhere.”
Transitioning to Mobile Dashboards with Responsive Design
“The concept of responsive design is the key that unlocks the door to seamless mobility, and factors such as size, design layout and orientation, and user experience must be considered.”
In case you missed it, we announced the release date for arcplan 8, which will support – in addition to Java and .NET – a new HTML5 client that enables dynamic, interactive page layouts that adjust automatically to various screen sizes. Officially launching September 26th, arcplan 8’s responsive design concept will offer our customers 60-80% savings on mobile BI development and maintenance costs. Learn more >>
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…
With half of the world’s businesses expected to embrace the bring-your-own device (BYOD) trend by 2017 and more than 80% of employees already using personal devices in the workplace, it’s more important than ever to make your business intelligence mobile-enabled. In surveying our customers, arcplan has found that those deploying mobile BI cite the need to deploy apps to many devices while maintaining a consistent design and low maintenance effort. So our next platform release this Fall is built on the concept of DORA – Design Once, Run Anywhere – the ability to create BI apps one time and have them automatically adapt their layouts to appear optimized on the end user’s device. And in today’s world, that can be a huge range of devices:
But even with DORA, dashboard designers need to do some work. The process involves laying out the dashboard elements for each screen size up front so the application can call up the optimized format. So let’s review a few things you’ll want to keep in mind as you design your company’s mobile dashboards.
Another Kscope is behind us! This was the third time arcplan has exhibited at this annual conference put on by the Oracle Development Tools User Group. New Orleans was the perfect host city as it provided great entertainment options after hours, and gave us an excuse to adorn attendees with Mardi Gras beads in arcplan colors! We also enjoyed catching up with attendees we’ve met at past Kscopes and several arcplan customers who were in attendance, including Turner Broadcasting and Bristol-Myers Squibb.
Of the 1400 attendees (attendance has risen by about 100 per year over the past several years), we found that half seemed to be business users and half were more on the IT/development side. Everyone who stopped by our booth was open about the systems they have in place, how they’re functioning, and the challenges they’re experiencing. We spoke with many attendees who:
- are looking for a replacement for their cumbersome reporting tools
- lack mobile access to reports and dashboards
- need access to Essbase data alongside data from other Oracle and non-Oracle systems
- want to fill the gaps in their Hyperion planning process
Several remarked on their extended OBIEE implementations (2+ years and counting…) and how they need an interim solution for reports and dashboards. They were delighted to see arcplan’s capabilities and excited by our drag-and-drop designer tool – and of course by our ability to deploy enterprise projects in less than 4 months.