Could BI be a ‘rocket science’ area within your company? How to build an anti-crisis business dashboard

Every company has a vast array of data at its disposal on how business is moving forward. For companies that know how to work with data, this is a treasure trove of useful information for making strategic business decisions. The key solution is to correctly gather and process this data as well as customize its visualization. An increasingly large number of businesses are catching on to the idea of ​​setting up a spaceship business ‘Control Center’ ("Marketing Command Center") that leverages Business Intelligence (BI) ecosystem reporting tools. This is how the top management of a company gains a business dashboard.
In this article, data visualization architect of Business Intelligence T1A, talks about what a dashboard is, how to build an anti-crisis dashboard and incorporate it into the corporate reporting ecosystem.
Like everyone else, we faced a number of challenges, not only within our company, but also together with our clients. Due to the specific nature of my work, data visualization made it easier to cope with these challenges and turn them into advantages. It’s also important to zero in on correlations and interconnections between events in the world and business behavior, see weaknesses that did not appear before, and be able to react faster.

What do astronauts and businessmen have in common?

Imagine an astronaut flying a space shuttle. In order for the mission to go smoothly, a large number of indicators need to be monitored during take off and in flight. In the event of a crisis, it is important to have a tool that can quickly pinpoint problems. For astronauts, this is the spaceship console. To understand what altitude the shuttle has reached, the astronaut does not need to open the window and take measurements with a yardstick, it will be sufficient to look at a certain gauge on the console. Or, to check that all rocket engines are working properly, instead of leaving his\ here post and venturing into outer space, he looks at the dashboard and responds quickly if the situation gets out of control, for example, shifting energy from the faulty engine to the other engines.

Dashboards play the role of such a spaceship console in business. Now more than ever businesses are catching on to the idea of setting up a business spaceship - Control Center that leverages Business Intelligence (BI) ecosystem reporting tools. The main users are managers, top managers and leading analysts. The challenges that arise on corporate dashboards are similar to those facing an astronaut on his or her dashboard.

The main users of dashboards are top managers and top analysts. The tasks that are set for the dashboards are similar to the astronaut's dashboard:
  • Becoming familiar with and keeping crew members aware of the current situation;
  • Focusing on critical issues that require input
  • In case of an emergency, the ability to continuously monitor the key metrics related to this event 

What is a dashboard, and what kind of decisions do they enable?

A dashboard is a data visualization that tracks a single topic, goal, or indicator. A dashboard is distinguished from a static report by its interactivity, i.e. the ability to rapidly drill-down into detailed hierarchies and determine “root cause", switch visual presentation of the dataset, and cross-filter data to study correlations and anomalies found in the data.

Depending on the area of business for which a dashboard is to be created, the key performance indicators (KPIs) may differ. We will consider examples of dashboards for theoretical companies in the field of banking, telecom, food retail, and air travel, but using our imagination, we can apply patterns to fill the screen and arrange items on the specific features of any business.
The main users of dashboards are executives, top managers, and leading analysts. The tasks that are set for dashboards are similar to those of the pilot's dashboard:

Dashboard: What, Where, and When
The dashboard contains KPIs that help identify such a frequently asked question as “Where the pain points are?" This type of dashboard is a starting point for deeper analysis and a measure of “Are we doing well?”.

Subject-specific dashboard 
On such a dashboard, the focus is on one topic. Aggregated KPIs and their granularity are shown, which may provide additional context or information. Such a dashboard is used to track, for example, the effectiveness of the development of a specific business section, the efficiency of targeted marketing, purchasing power among the client base, and the execution of sales targets based on the geographical location of outlets. 

The specific KPIs here are to be defined inline with the strategic aims of the company, and may vary from one company to another even within one business sphere. 

If a bank aims to increase the overall Credit Issuance, it needs to track 

  • “conversion rate” from all Leads (the audience for the product of that bank) 
  • “transition rate” from one step to the funnel to the next (Leads -> Fill-in the Request -> Check the request by Underwriting service -> Get the Approval from Underwriting service->Issue the Credit -> Get the credit from customer side);
  • “approval rate” from all requests the bank gets to those which preceded the security check.

Then to define the “weak link” in the chain, those KPIs have to be disclosed on the Channels of communication (Internet, Front Office, Call Center etc.) In order to provide a decent level of Conversion rate we need to understand the lowest level and the root cause of it.
Thus after we are satisfied with the level of Conversion rate we can assume that increasing the Leads amount will impact on the overall Credit Issuance.

Crisis dashboard for various industries. Specific features

The anti-crisis dashboard makes it possible to constantly monitor the metrics that are significant for the business on a day-to-day basis. It literally displays "here and now" status, while how frequently the dashboard is updated depends on the volume of data and its storage location. The most frequently used dashboard update interval is once per day. Depending on the specific features of a business, a number of different focus areas can be defined. Highlighting specific metrics makes it possible to analyze data from a different perspective.
But how can we figure out what a crisis metric is for a business and what is not? At first it seems that everything is important. But by displaying all the metrics and sections concurrently, there is a risk that we will lose sight of what is really important. As a result, users will not know which visualizations to prioritize, the storytelling path will be distorted, which, in turn, can lead to incorrect conclusions.

It’s important to understand the purpose of a business and build the dashboard accordingly.

  • For example, for a mobile operator/ISP, the KPI may be to provide a stable network for all subscribers. The focus would then be on tracking abnormal peak loads on communication towers with regular data updates. Having such a tool at our fingertips, we increase our ability to quickly tackle problems and reduce the risk of them occurring, in general;
  • For an air carrier, the KPI could be to monitor the population mobility rate and passenger traffic trends. With such a dashboard, managers will always have the opportunity to quickly react to changes in the situation, adjust to current issues and, if necessary, rebuild certain parts of the business so as not to lose a share of customers and ensure their safety;
  • The KPI for food retailers during panic buying would be to ensure the availability of the goods that are most in demand during such a period. We can draw up a list of socially significant goods, assign them to a separate category and monitor them, comparing this category with other goods;
  • Any crisis situation, such as a pandemic, requires awareness and readiness to act not only in relation to the business, but also to employees. Without reference to the company's area of activity, displaying an overall picture of the infection rate and recovery within the company will give managers a sense of the offices where the situation is most critical, where additional measures to prevent infection need to be taken, and whether to hold additional virtual meetings for employees or to send out newsletters;

Any dashboard should solve a problem, reveal a question, confirm or refute assumptions. Framing goals properly and asking your dashboard questions is half the battle. The other half are carefully crafted visualizations that reveal the answers to questions and actions that will be taken after your data has been analyzed. 
* All of the data referred to in dashboard examples are fictitious and have been depersonalized to protect business secrets.
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