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Dashboards? We don't need no stinkin' dashboards!

by Dave Hannon

September 22, 2011

By Dave Hannon


So you're a small business, sales are trending up, you're leveraging social media to connect with customers, and you don't think you need any fancy analytics to grow your people-focused business?

Oh, you say you're a big multinational with a mature data analysis strategy that, frankly, you couldn't "dumb down" enough for me to understand?

Well I've got news for you both -- you both can benefit from a greater understanding of how analytics can benefit your company.

According to a recent survey from the MIT Sloan Management Review and IBM  57% more companies are using analytics for a competitive advantage this year than last year. That's good news. But the not-so-good news from the same survey is the reported 5% decline among "aspirational companies" which are defined as "basic analytics users; they typically rely on analytics for financial and supply chain management and primarily use spreadsheets and structured, siloed data that support targeted activities."

So it's sort of a "rich get richer" scenario playing out in the analytics world. What's the answer? Well of course, every company is different, but the presentation of the analytics is one area that more companies are looking into as a method of extending the actual data as well as the data-driven decision-making out to a broader set of less analytics-minded employ ees.

First let's look at those "aspirational" companies in the survey. The decline of analtytics use among these companies may well be related to difficulty in presenting analytics clearly from a spreadsheet-based environment. Sure, an experienced MS Excel guru can whip up some pretty intuitive data visualizations, but most midmarket companies might not have that expertise in-house. And even if they do, the manual process of creating them is time-consuming. In many ways, these companies are the ones that need the user-friendliness of executive dashboards the most, to intuitively create the reports and dashboards they need.

Of course, this level of functionality is often perceived to be beyond the budget of a typical SME. For you I've got two tips.

Tip #1: One SAP program I recently dug into might go a long way in  changing that perception. SAP's OEM program is focused on partnering with industry-specific solution providers -- and even business with their own in-house solutions -- to embed SAP BusinessObjects technology into their existing solution. So if you're an SME and you don't have an advanced data warehouse, but perhaps you use a cloud-based industry-specific solution that has BOBJ embedded into it, you could get the data from that solution in a much more user-friendly format as part of this program.

Tip #2: With all the integration talk between SAP and BOBJ these days (which is good), SMEs should remember that you don't have to be an SAP customer to buy and use BusinessObjects technology. And if you're looking for some details on how SAP BusinessObjects might work in your organization, check out the BusinessObjects Expert site here.

And for you reporting snobs out there that think you've got analytics covered and don't need to "dumb it down" for users in your organization, I'll return to my metaphor and say when the rich get too rich there is a risk that they lose touch with the common man. In other words, companies with a wealth of experience in analytics can get a bit too advanced in their reporting and bombard users -- including those in the C-suite -- with too much data in overly complicated reports.

To help put this in perspective, I'll share this quote from a Kraft Foods presenter at the recent SAP TechEd conference:

"We put sales data into SAP BusinessObjects Explorer and showed our executives and they immediately took out their checkbooks. I learned you can't give someone SAP BusinessObjects Explorer on an iPad at the start of a meeting because they will just be playing with it the entire time you're talking with them."

So no matter which end of the analytics spectrum you're on, there are likely more ways and new solutions you can be using to bring the value of analytics to your user base.

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