Data is one of the most valuable assets your organisation owns. But how you use that vital information is even more important when creating an agile and responsive business.
Historical data is great for providing context and background. And while ad-hoc or regular reports help give an indication of the state of key performance indicators, they only do this at a single point in time – and need to be updated constantly if they’re ever going to stay accurate.
Data collection capabilities have improved greatly in recent years, meaning you can access more data than ever before, and much more quickly. But unless your data is delivered to decision makers quickly, their strategic decisions are going to be too slow, or possibly even wrong, because they haven’t seen the most recent information.
This is where “real-time data” comes into play. But what is real-time data? And what is it for? Real-time data is when information is delivered immediately after it’s collected. This means that:
As soon as information is entered into your systems, it is available for analysis;
Data systems can be linked to give “fresh” information some historical context;
Your organisation has immediate access to relevant data at all times; and
Your organisation is alerted to risks and opportunities before it is too late to do anything about them.
With access to this level of information:
Stakeholders and management teams are fully appraised of current conditions before defining a strategy;
Trends can be accurately identified and acted upon;
You will identify risks and opportunities early, enabling you to act on them for maximum benefit – or to avert disaster; and
You can take strategic decisions more quickly, further increasing potential returns that might otherwise be lost to competitors or wastage.
This timely access to data is imperative for agile decision-making and accurate analysis. But true value from real-time data can only be recognised if:
All of your data systems can be linked to give context to your real-time data;
Your system allows for on-the-fly analysis and reporting;
Data is displayed in an easy-to-digest, easy-to-use way; and
Tools are user friendly, and save your employees time and effort.
For example, if the marketing department has been busy creating a new campaign and has hired extra consultants at significant cost. Two weeks into the month-long campaign, the team has already spent 75 per cent of its total budget. At this rate it will have spent 150 per cent of its budget by the end of the campaign.
Using real-time data, budget monitoring can be performed continually so that potential overspend can be identified before it even happens. Alerts can also be pre-configured when threshold values are reached to create a second fail-safe warning mechanism. By using data in real time, you head off problems before they even occur.
Furthermore, key performance indicators (KPIs) are not hard to calculate, but tracking them can be. Not to mention being unsure if your KPIs are the right ones for the results you want. To monitor the trends in your KPIs you need instant access, so you can see where things stand now – not how they stood last week.
And not only that, even when you’ve generated a KPI report and it is reasonably recent, how easy is it to spot the trends? More importantly, how easy is it to share those trends with others?
By far the most popular way to present essential data is through the use of graphics. Charts and graphs make it easy to pick out the trends or events that demand instant action – as well as those showing that all is well. Combining several charts into a single display – or dashboard – presents users with an immediate overview of their KPIs and enables them to make informed decisions as a result.
So, what is real-time data worth? With dashboards, real data can be used across most departments, providing significant benefits in the process.
Paul Carter, Management Information Manager of Pulse Staffing, said: “What we have been able to establish is a single place that people within the business can go to for information – without having to page through loads and loads of spreadsheets. It also means that within the Management Information Team, less people spend less time producing scheduled reports – providing us with time to innovate rather than just producing the same old reports.”
Adam Wicks is Business Development Manager atDynistics
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