You’ve made reports for years. You know every hotkey in Excel, and you have dreams about data. You understand the importance of visual reporting, but what about the person on the assembly line, or in the warehouse?
Automated visual reporting, informed by real-time data, is the answer. Not only can it make your job easier, it can make everyone’s job easier. Executives still get the information they need. Workers get the benefits of passive “at-a-glance” visuals. Best of all, you don’t have to build the same report every week. All that said, visual reporting requires a different approach. No matter how good you are at building traditional reports, building a culture of visual reporting is another beast. Here are some tips to get you started.
Know What You Need to Know
Take stock of the metrics and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you rely on for day-to-day operations. This should give you a healthy foundation for visual reporting. Visual reporting can help everyone, but your first priority is to make sure it can take the place of existing reports. Put on your oxygen mask before assisting others.
Once you’ve thought about what your immediate needs, think about long-term possibilities. The old way of doing things likely limited the sort of information you could get. Realize that metrics that were once too complicated to measure are within reach. When you automate basic reports, you’ll have time to tackle more complicated metrics. It may help to prioritize what metrics are most important.
Consider your Audience
With an idea of what you need, start thinking about others. Almost everyone in your organization can benefit from some form of visual reporting, but you can’t go throwing complicated analytics at every last employee. Talk to your staff, and get a sense of what everyone needs from a visual report. “If the system’s laid out clearly, everyone on the shop floor right through to the director can look at the same graph and understand it,” says Chris Morgan, Production Manager at Street Furniture Australia. Of course, you may prefer to have specialized reports for different roles. For example, an executive might want something interactive and tweakable. Meanwhile, a factory worker might want something passive they can glance at from time to time. Furthermore, some of your employees will be less technical.
The most important thing is to give people something they’ll actually use. Think about the information that you get from people that could be coming from a chart. Ask yourself, “who’s looking at these charts? What do they need?” Are people always asking the same questions? Perhaps they could get answers from a chart instead. “We actually created portals for the warehouse for the finance team, for the management team, data trends with the IT team. We released those portals to the people who need to have access to them,” says Gary Cifatte, CTO at Candy.com. A good sense of everyone’s needs will save you time in the long run, but you can always make changes later.
Build Basic Charts
Once you know what KPIs matter, build something simple. Don’t get ahead of yourself with adding filters, comparisons, or interactivity; the goal is to create a starting point with a single metric to build upon. A great place to start is to chart your KPIs it over time. This helps you get a sense of the variables that matter to you while the stakes are low.
For some folks, it helps to draw it on a piece of paper. Think of this chart as an outline to set the foundation to build your entire dashboard. It won’t be perfect, but it’ll allow you to understand with what you need before you spend time building more reports. “Once you build one chart and you see how it functions, it really just starts happening. Within a day or so, we got our first ten charts built,” says Brian Krosschell, Finance Director at fairlife. When you start with something basic, it gives you the freedom to experiment.
Take Advantage of Templates and Best Practices
Of course, you don’t have to build every chart yourself. Another great way to start is with a template. Though every organization is different, there’s a good chance the chart you need is already out there. Between templates and best practices from others in your industry, it can be surprisingly easy to get going. After you make a few adjustments, you should be pretty close to what you need. iCharts has several templates built in, and you can always get some ideas from the Brief Papers on our Resources Page.
Refine, Tweak, and Iterate
If you’re happy with your charts at this point, there’s no need to fiddle, but most people want to take the next step. Basic charts and templates can get you far, but before long, you’ll probably want a closer look at your data. With basic charts in place, it’s time to refine them so they’re perfect for your needs.
Use an iterative model to tweak your charts. Build off of what you have and avoid making several changes all at once. Instead, make small changes, see how they work out, and adjust accordingly. After doing this a couple of times, you’ll be much closer to the charts you want. If you’re a tinkerer, you can keep tweaking things forever, but with the right setup, you don’t have to.
If you’re in a role that requires a closer look at the data, you may want to add interactivity, specialized filters, or specific data mashups. These features are more advanced, but they’re almost as easy to set up. Ask yourself if there’s any information you’d like to know that you can’t see. Very soon, your entire organization will be running visually.
With these three steps, you have a basic idea of how to build automated visual charts and reports. For more information, check out the iCharts Resources Page.
To learn more about iCharts, visit our iCharts for NetSuite page.