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Dashboards and other visualization tools: how to make analytical data understandable

It's easy to get lost in the abundance of numbers in tables and documents. Data visualization is a tool that allows you to structure disparate facts into a single picture. Anton Fedorov, commercial director of cloud Service Desk at ITSM 365, explains how data visualization is used to automate the work of companies.

What is data visualization and how it can help a company

Data visualization is a graphical representation of information and analytics: graphs, charts, maps, dashboards. These tools help to track the dynamics of various indicators, highlight trends, identify relationships between processes.

The need for data visualization depends on the volume of information being processed. For example, the HR department hires a large number of employees for a new chain of pharmacies. Hundreds and sometimes thousands of applicants respond to job openings per day. To optimize the work, the HR department set up visualization of application intake.

Data visualization helps employees understand their workload and facilitates seamless transitions between projects, as well as focus on the task progression step by step. If necessary, you will be able to go deeper into the tasks that are "stuck" or require you to make an urgent decision.

In turn, the manager is able to control the activities of team members with the help of visualization. For example, to monitor subordinates' achievement of KPIs. If you upload your company's performance indicators, you can keep analytics for all employees in a single product. If you set up data widgets, you can see who can get bonuses and who can be depressed or even fired. You can also view overall statistics on company activities:

  • what's going on in the company's division right now;

  • where there are difficulties;

  • where employees need to be connected and helped;

  • where requests for projects are overdue;

  • where tasks are hanging there without attention for a long time.

For example, one of our clients, a service company, was displaying a dashboard directly on a screen that they hung in the office. They showed metrics on it to monitor their activities. It was visible to all employees, so they could quickly track unallocated and overdue requests by looking at a graph of current activity, which improved overall performance.

How you can visualize data

Companies use more than 50 data visualization options for analyzing their operations: different types of charts, graphs, dashboards and matrices. I share three ways to visualize data and tell you for what purposes they are best suited.

Kanban Board

In a clear and convenient way, it displays the project and its current status, as well as helps employees and managers manage it. For example, to present the number of requests for each execution status. With the help of a kanban board, it is convenient to assess the value of various indicators and understand how the task is progressing.


Gantt Chart

Plans the project execution and outlines the process. The more components a Gantt chart contains, the more effective it is to use it in your work. Employees can visualize the interconnections between company processes and effectively manage task timelines.


Dashboards

All graphs, charts and diagrams can be placed on the indicator panel - dashboards. This is one of the most convenient tools: a variety of infographic formats allows you to display almost any indicator in graphical form.


Dashboards allow you to analyze project progress and visually represent its parameters, metrics, and dynamics for stakeholders. For example, you can see which project team has more tasks at the moment and which ones are out of schedule. Within one task, one worker may have ten tasks, another may have three. Then you should distribute tasks evenly among employees or transfer some of them to other teams.

There are the following types of dashboards according to their functions:

- Operational - displays current data and their changes: requests for services, number of leads on a product or website traffic.

Operational dashboard is useful for a particular employee to perform daily tasks: he can set up the parameters that need to monitor, and clearly see the changes in them.

Example: a dashboard where an employee can see the projects he or she is involved in and his or her tasks that are about to expire.


- Analytical - determines development trends and analyzes the company's indicators: the average bill, the share of customers, the dynamics of requests by registration method.

An analytical dashboard is particularly useful for line managers responsible for monitoring data changes within their areas of responsibility, for example, the team or business processes. In a dashboard the manager can arrange cumulative tables with a large number of related parameters and track their dynamics.

Example: dashboard with load by employees, which shows how many tasks are on each.

- Strategic - helps to determine the course of the company's development. For example, it displays a linear graph with the dynamics of the number of requests by years.

A strategic dashboard is needed when information is needed to make long-term decisions, so they are needed more for top management than for rank-and-file employees.

Example: a dashboard that reflects the direction in which the company is developing, whether it achieves its goals, say, in terms of growth in the number of clients. Also, top management can track financial indicators: the dynamics of revenue by clients by year.

Do not put all the parameters of the company on one dashboard, because it will be difficult for employees to focus their attention on the parameters they need in their work.

When working with dashboards, the data is updated in real time, so the interactive tool is able to compare data from last month with today's data and analyze it. The manager can also set the necessary filtering in widgets and see what is happening in the company with indicators, employees and clients.

For example, the dashboard can display the average time of task completion by employees. If a manager notices a strong deviation in one of them, the first thing to do is to figure out what the problem is. Let's say the tasks may be too difficult for the employee, or he/she is too responsible for the tasks and spends a lot of time where resources need to be reduced.

The ability to add the most important metrics to dashboards for tracking allows management to react to changes in time and turns dashboards into controls rather than reports.

Tips for companies to visualize data

Utilizing even simple graphs incorrectly can negatively impact both internal team operations and the external presentation of your company, potentially leading to misinformation among employees and partners. I tell you what to look for when visualizing data.

Take full advantage of data visualization tools

In addition to basic service templates, create and customize separate tabs with widgets to analyze specific processes. Think about which areas of the company you would like to track.

By investing time initially to customize the system for your processes, you can preserve all parameters and easily fine-tune the visualization according to your specific needs.

Choose the right type of visualization

The main purpose of visualization is to simplify and accelerate the perception of information. The format and type of graphics you choose should facilitate this, not hinder it.

Different types of data require different types of visualization tools. For example, to see the connections between the processes, you can use Gantt chart, to assess the value of the indicators in the process it is convenient to use a kanban board.

Focus on the target audience

Keep in mind the image of the person who will review the collected information. This may be the head of the team or department, the head of the company. The way the data is visualized will depend on that.

If the director is used to getting reports in the mail and does not agree to switch to a cloud solution for data visualization, unload the data and send it to him in excel format.

Get away from data overload

If there are too many widgets on the dashboard: all colorful and different sizes, it's hard to navigate and read the information. Remember the rule of "7 +/- 2": most people can only keep 5 to 9 items in their attention and memory at a time.

Your visualization should be simple and straightforward, so only put a small amount of data on it. For example, if a company needs to track the effectiveness of the development team and their workload, it should display their KPIs on dashboards and analyze the dynamics.

Instead of a conclusion

Data visualization adds value by optimizing company operations and enhancing performance. Furthermore, data visualization transforms from a reporting tool to a management tool, enabling managers to monitor real-time company activities.

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