Talk to any senior executive today and chances are they will flag real-time analytics as one of the top needs of their organization. This holds true for young startups who’ve built their own KPI dashboards, companies who spend millions of dollars per year on a variety of advanced analytics solutions, and everyone on between. But what do they mean when they say real-time?
There are two very different use cases that are prevalent in the world of analytics: one is the need for very deep, thorough and precise analysis. This is the domain of data scientists and highly skilled analysts who are capable of manipulating large data sets and extracting business-relevant insights from them in a timely manner. The other, and I would argue, more immediate and wide-spread need is for regular, frictionless and effective communication of a select set of key metrics to audiences of differing levels of analytical experience.
The challenge within many organizations today is that both of these very different use cases are usually addressed by the same internal teams using the same set of tools. Analytics and especially BI tools to date have been chosen with the analytics professional as the primary user. That’s changing — and while we’ll still need R, SAS, Adobe, advanced modeling techniques and a bevy of plotting and visualization solutions, the same set of tools don’t also have to be the ultimate day-to-day data visualization and presentation layer for your whole organization. The last thing your head of sales needs while on the road is a huge Excel file she’ll try to look at on her phone minutes before a client meeting.
What the majority of business users need when it comes to analytics boils down to the following:
- Timely access to a select set of important metrics: most analytics systems aim for breadth and depth of different types of analysis one can perform. This is great but most teams need to track no more than 10–15 KPIs on a daily or weekly basis. For the average business user, timely regular access to this subset of key metrics is more valuable than regression techniques. A true enterprise solution will enable each team within your organization to have ready access to their most important metrics.
- Interpretation assistance: most tools today put the onus on the end user to interpret what the chart, table or graph is saying. Instead, our tools can alert users just to the highlights and most important changes. Everything looking good except pageviews were lower by more than 20%? Let’s quickly look into that. Sales tracking ahead of projections? Great news to promptly share across the organization.
- Actionability: reporting and analytics have traditionally occupied the realm of the passive, but once an insight is uncovered the first thing that business users want to do is be able to act on it. Whether it’s to ask a follow-up question or to push results into a downstream system, an analytics tool for business users needs to enable actionability natively.
- Accessibility: if your team’s weekly report is set to be generated on Monday morning, can you access your key metrics on Friday afternoon? Many organizations I’ve spoken with over the last several years identify their need for real-time analytics — when you say that to an analytics expert we immediately start conjuring visions of high-performance systems that command appropriately high price tags. But that’s more often than not the actual ask — the underlying need is to have regular and easy access to the most recent set of key metrics
- Ease & speed of deployment: most analytics systems are quite complex to deploy and take months of implementation time to truly be able to meet enterprise needs. For the needs of business users, speed of deployment is critical. Vendors who create solutions that are 90% ready out of the box with standard connectors between commonly used systems can demonstrate their value to business users quicker than a traditional analytics systems who rely on longer setups and more granular customization options.
To quickly size up the challenge within your organization ask your colleagues the following questions:
- Which regular (weekly, daily) reports are a must-read for you? What do you like about them? What could be better?
- Which device do you normally consume these reports on? Is it a mobile device > 50% of the time?
- What’s the most recent big insight you gleaned from a regular report and what action did you take based on it?
- Which metrics are most important to your line of business? Can you easily access them whenever you’d like?
For a company to be truly data-driven, easy access to key metrics is a necessary starting point. When you’re evaluating what to invest in, think more about the needs of a non-expert audience spread across multi-functional teams and all parts of the organization. Empowering everyone in your organization to make data-driven decisions will happen more cost-effectively if you find ways to democratize access to data and relevant business insights. If the next time you ask about KPIs your colleagues whip out their mobile devices to enthusiastically show you patterns, you’re well on your way.