Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Customer Analytics: See the Truth with Data Visualization – Part I


The idea of having a 360 degree view of your customers is not a new one, but actually getting it is a real challenge in our world of silo’d data. Customer analytics give you a better understanding of your customers, and the ability to spot trends, identify opportunities to cross-sell, up-sell or simply target them more effectively, ultimately optimizing your customer relationships. But to get these insights in one place, like a dashboard, you need to integrate separate data from CRM, accounting, and customer support systems. Without a BI platform in place – one that integrates data from many sources like arcplan – it falls on you, the decision maker, to waste time assembling the pieces necessary to come up with a view of your customers from these different systems.

But if you are looking to utilize your business intelligence software for customer analytics, this series of articles will help you define the metrics you should be tracking as well as the visualizations that most effectively portray the data.

Graph Customer Growth with Bridge Charts

The most common way to track customer growth over time is by using a bar graph to show year over year comparison. A simple bar graph might show you that 2 years ago, you had 100 customers, last year you had 107 customers and this year you have 120 customers. Using arcplan’s linear regression formula, you expect to have 125 customers next year.

The numbers and the forecast look great, but the real story may be a little more shocking once you properly visualize it.

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Planning Visualizations: Charts That Make Variances Easier to Understand


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…

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Essential Budgeting & Planning System Components – Part 5: Tactical Planning Dashboards with Visualizations


planning_varianceFor my final post in this series, I’ll cover tactical planning dashboards as a component that shows planners where they can make the changes that have the biggest impact on the plan.

Data visualization has struck a chord with many executive decision-makers as a way to condense large amounts of information, format it in a way that’s easy to digest and understand, and most importantly, reveal vital business insights that can help them make better decisions. Thankfully, visualizations are not reserved for executive decision-makers; similar types of visualizations can be beneficial for planning managers too.

Planning dashboards allow planners to see the whole picture at a glance, determine whether their plans are favorable or not, and provide guidance for where to direct their attention. When budgets are out of alignment or plans are going astray as the year progresses, the visualizations on a planning dashboard say, “look exactly here – this is your problem – this is where you can make an adjustment that will have a real impact – the other changes you’re going to make are a waste of time.”

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