Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

CFO Magazine CPM Conference Recap


CFO CPMThe challenges facing today’s finance leaders

I returned from CFO Magazine’s Corporate Performance Management Conference last week with a sense that many finance leaders are experiencing similar problems when it comes to achieving a holistic view of company performance. I like to reflect on the common themes after a conference, and after this one, I kept coming back to the theme of “one shared challenge.” As a vendor who exhibits at several conferences per year, we’re used to hearing about a multitude of BI/analysis/data issues, but at this event, everyone seemed to be on the same page.

arcplan sponsored the CPM Conference, held around the corner from our US headquarters at the Loews Philadelphia. It brought together 150 CFOs, VPs of Finance, Directors of FP&A, Controllers, and Analysts for three days of workshops, case studies and networking. We had plenty of time to speak with attendees, and it was remarkable how many times I heard the same challenge:

I can’t connect all of my data on one screen.

I talked to many people using IBM Cognos, SAP, Oracle, and other systems simultaneously with no method to make them all work together. The inability to easily share critical business insight across the organization was a hot topic during every networking break. Again and again I was asked how arcplan could solve the issue of everyone spending their time of the process of monthly data gathering and not on the analysis…

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What Your Data Wants To Tell You


Your data has a ton of stories to tell you – and maybe even a few warnings – if only you would listen. Data talks and today I’m exploring its wishlist:

“Make Me Impossible To Ignore!”
Have you ever been distracted during a phone conversation and missed what the person on the other end said to you? No one likes to be ignored and neither does your data. Sometimes it’s practically screaming at your inventory managers, “Don’t send anymore widgets to Mississippi – they aren’t selling,” or yelling at your marketers, “Stop buying leads from Company X – they’re not converting into revenue!” The problem is that data is easy to ignore, especially if your company culture allows it. Since arcplan is a BI company, we’re ruled by metrics from the top down. Our marketing department keeps track of lead flow on a daily basis with dashboards, so we have constant visibility into what lead sources are best converting to opportunities and which opportunities best convert to closed deals. Sure, it’s easy to just stop looking at the dashboard but then I wouldn’t have a job anymore. Our company demands that we pay attention to our data. Dashboards work for us, since they can be delivered via email on a regular schedule so if we’re on the road, we don’t need to login to any system to view our performance data – we just check our email. Would your company benefit from in-your-face BI dashboards? Maybe then people would stop ignoring what the data has to say and they’d be able to make better decisions that contribute to improved company performance.

“Hurry Up, Please!”
Do you wait days or weeks for IT to deliver the data you need to perform analyses? If so, you’re not alone. Many of our clients come to us when they tire of this wait time and are starting to see the competition pull ahead as they’re able to make more agile business decisions. Our client Japs-Olson, a commercial printer in Minnesota, was waiting a week or more for reports from IT when they decided to implement an arcplan BI solution. Now it takes their CFO – who you’d classify as a regular business user, not a report or dashboard designer – minutes to create a new report. That kind of quick turn-around is what separates top performers from the rest of the pack…

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Dashboard Charts & Graphs: Which Is Right For Your Data?


Decision-makers depend on insightful charts and graphs to help them make fast, accurate decisions. “Insightful” charts and graphs are easy to read and understand and are the right design for your data. The wrong chart type can throw everything off and make your dashboard unusable. For example, while pie charts are most often used to display the share or percentage of a total, they’re not good for comparing the relationship between two variables – a scatter chart is better for that. While bar charts are good for comparison, if you want to compare many categories of data over time, go with a line chart.

Are you tasked with creating the dashboards that are used every day at your organization? As dashboard experts, let’s take a look at a few practical examples of why certain charts are better suited to display certain types of data versus others. If you find this article useful, be sure to view our webinar recording Scorecard & Dashboard Development: A Detailed How-To, where you’ll get more practical tips to create interactive, “go-to” dashboards.

Bullet Graphs vs. Bar Charts

Sales data for the year may be best displayed on a bullet graph. This type of graph displays a fair amount of data in a small space, compares measures to enrich its meaning, and is generally a simple, uncluttered visual representation of data. With a bullet graph, the budgeted sales amount for the year is represented by the entire length of the bar; the actual value is represented by the thin bar in the forefront (blue on the sales bullet graph). The shaded grey areas (in our image) represent the values “poor,” “satisfactory,” and “good.” In our image, the sales data is satisfactory, approaching good. Stacking bullet graphs allows the user to compare values with ease – here, sales vs. costs. A bullet graph would even work well as a desktop widget since it can showcase an important KPI in a simple, space-efficient format.

Would a bar chart work for this same data?
A bullet chart is actually a variation of a bar chart. Even though bar charts are useful for comparing data as well, for our sales example, it may not be your best option. With a bar chart, you’d need to have 2 columns per month – one for actual and one for the target/budgeted amount. Alternatively, you could use a stacked bar chart, but that is basically what we have here with the bullet graph, only with even more data than a stacked bar chart typically offers. Because it would be difficult to track your progress over time, a standard bar chart isn’t the most efficient chart type for sales actual vs. budget data.

Candlestick Charts vs. Bubble Charts

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Social Media & Business Intelligence: Friends or Frenemies?


Social media monitoring is an emerging trend that’s here to stay as the popularity of sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ increases. Business intelligence is past the trend phase – it’s commonplace at companies large and small, who will spend nearly $11 billion on it before the year is over, according to Gartner. These are two powerful segments of the analytics market and the question that’s begging to be asked is: are social media and business intelligence friends or frenemies? Do they have to play along to keep the peace or do they actually go hand-in-hand?

For us at arcplan, social media and BI are two sides of the same coin, two pieces of the puzzle that is your business. For a complete picture of your customers, your brand, and your position in the market to emerge, you need information that’s collected from social sites and from your corporate data sources. After all, your data warehouse isn’t going to tell you that the off-handed Twitter comment you made last week contributed to a drop in sales unless you can associate your sentiment analysis to your sales data.

We’re all striving to “do more” with our data – to roll out ad-hoc reporting to our business users so they can take ownership of analysis, make data easier to access so we can rely on IT less, create high-level dashboards for our executives, build scorecards to manage our KPIs, master every chart type… but we haven’t truly begun to do more with data until we incorporate information from outside traditional BI data sources into our everyday analysis. And be aware, the amount of data we’re talking about can be huge. That’s why some in our industry call this Big Data – but this is a story we will review in another article.

It’s important to understand how you, as an organization, can structure social information and associate it to the other data you have about your customers. All kinds of companies – B2C and B2B – are seeing the need to better understand all dimensions of their customers – not only demographic information and purchase history, but also what they’re saying in the social space.

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