taking a nap in a parked car
It's easy to fall into a rut with data visualizations — here are six ways to shake your dashboards up PHOTO: Ville Hyvönen

Business leaders are experiencing fatigue following the onslaught of big data and analytics hype over the past few years. They’ve listened to the “experts” and spent millions on infrastructure, cloud computing and business intelligence tools, expecting to gain transformative insights. 

Unfortunately, in many cases that promise has not come to fruition and it’s left the executives wondering how to get the most out of their investments. 

Part of the issue lies in the growth in data visualization tools and abundance of easily accessible data creating a drag and drop culture, which ignores the planning necessary to develop great visualizations. 

Here are six solutions to get your analytics team moving in the right direction with your visualizations. 

Adding Value Beyond the Tool

One of the best ways to build trust and increase the influence of an analytics team within an organization is to prevent work products from becoming stale, outdated and eventually forgotten. This entails several tasks to execute properly:

1. Slowly Introduce Complexity

Complexity for complexity’s sake is a waste of time and resources. Start slow by answering the business question at hand. The insights uncovered may shelve the conversation. If not, you’ll need to determine the importance of the data request and how closely it should be monitored as well as the level of effort to construct the associated reporting.

Why this is important: Sometimes all that is required is a simple answer, other times not. Being able to evaluate and determine those differences will save your team significant time and effort.

2. Collect Points of Interest

Collect data that isn’t necessarily reported on each week or month. Often data can remain quite consistent for long periods of time, but then change because of a product launch or seasonality or a specific marketing campaign. Collect and monitor this superfluous data, but only call it out when there is something of interest to report on. 

Why this works: New insights are always exciting, and delivering them with data that has yet to be seen by your stakeholders will definitely garner attention.

3. Create Custom Alerts 

Most digital analytics tools today have built-in functionality for enabling alerts. Use these to your advantage by setting up notifications for your team when important metrics fluctuate due to seasonality, a product launch, a new marketing campaign or any data point that is vital to the business. 

Why this is important: Every team has a limit to their resources and cannot afford to watch all of the data all of the time. Alerts create efficiency by removing a piece of the human element while maintaining a pulse on the business. 

4. Practice Data Storytelling

A successful tactic I've found has been to use data to mirror the experience of the customer. This data presentation method is easily understood by executives as well as data wranglers since most everyone in the company will be familiar with the conversion process of the business. 

Why this works: When reporting aligns with the customer experience, the data consumer is lead down a familiar path. This lowers the bar for data comprehension and increases data consumption for uncovering sights.

5. Refresh Your Dashboards

Evaluate and refresh your dashboards at least every one to two months. This can include adding a few new elements, removing irrelevant elements, updating the overall design and possibly upgrading the delivery method. 

Why this is important: Your business is continually changing and evolving, so your reporting must do the same to align with those fluctuations.

6. Do a Total Reboot

If your team works with a business unit or client for longer than one year, you should do a total reboot of at least 40 percent of your major reporting and dashboarding responsibilities. 

I recommend doing this during a seasonal downtime by developing interesting chart types (Sankey diagrams, box plots, spark lines), forecasting and predictive features or a data integration that your stakeholders weren't aware was possible.

Why this works: Most likely all of the updates and recommendations with not be accepted or integrated into the final visualization, but that’s somewhat beside the point. You’re building a relationship by developing new ideas and concepts around a team’s data without being prompted. 

Push Your Analytics Team for Continued Improvements

Don't allow your team to get lazy with their visualizations. 

It's easy to build something out and then forget about it, but every dashboard can benefit from a second look and a makeover. The long-term success of any analytics team will be determined by their ability to stay sharp and keep their reporting in stride with the business.