Intelligence, not Information – Presenting Your Message
Organisations base most of their tactical and strategic decisions on ‘the numbers’: it seems like a trivial thing, but the way you present your final numbers can have a huge impact on whether people digest what they say, and hence make the right decisions.
Numbers are produced by accountants, often in big spreadsheets with hundreds of rows and multiple tabs. They create detail and order, and ensure that every little bean is accounted for. This helps the Board to sleep well at night, knowing that their Finance team have all the numbers under control.
Unfortunately it doesn’t help senior management or the Board in actually understanding what’s going on in their business. Senior managers have short attention spans, and just don’t have the patience to sift through all of these spreadsheets, looking for problems hidden deep within the numbers.
Which Numbers? Choosing your KPIs
So we need to cut down on the numbers. But which ones do we keep? And, more importantly, how do we convince our more detail-hungry stakeholders to live without the rest?
It’s all about ownership, buy-in and creating consensus:
Sourcing your Data
Before you open your new reporting tool and start designing dashboards, take a step back and think about where your data is coming from. The more ‘structured’ your data is, the easier it will be for you. A dashboard built on unstructured and inconsistent data, no matter how slick it looks, is like building a castle in the air – sooner or later it will come crashing down, and all your work will have been wasted.
|Unstructured Data Examples||Data Source Issues|
Of course, unstructured data isn’t all bad – for ‘real-time’ operational reporting you’ll have to use it raw and unadulterated.
Ideally, what you really want is a dimensionally-modelled data mart, with nice clean reliable data from multiple sources. See what your IT department already has, or have a look here for some tips to tackle it yourself.
Charts, Tables or Text?
Different people process visual information in different ways. Some prefer charts and graphs – some even like pie charts – and some prefer tables. Others prefer to be told the story in narrative form. The trick is to know your audience, and be prepared to change the style (or present it in several different ways) based on their feedback.
There are a few basic rules though:
- Keep it minimal – don’t clutter the screen
- Don’t overdo the colours – use your corporate palette if you have one
- Enable drill-down to more detailed reports – to keep the ‘detail guys’ happy
At the end of the day, every organisation is different and you need to find your own approach that suits the personalities involved. It would also be a good idea to come and talk to the Business Intelligence team at Cornerstone – we’ve done this hundreds of times across almost every industry sector.
If you’ve got big ideas for your reporting framework, and want someone to bounce them off, contact Hamish Dwight today.
Case Study – Coates Hire Operations
“We wanted a simpler way to deliver information, one that wouldn’t tie our guys up in spreadsheets,” says James Welch, Chief Financial Officer at Coates Hire. “We realised that a summary-level dashboard could give our brand managers an instant overview of what the top priorities should be, and we also wanted a capability to drill down, right to the source.”