March 16, 2017
Selecting new technology | Corporate reporting and dashboards
As a retailer, you’ve got a ton of data. You accumulate it from customers, employees, vendors, partners, software and hardware, over long operating hours and from hundreds or thousands of stores. All that data can give you a competitive advantage by allowing you to make faster, better decisions — if you make sure it’s consumable and actionable. Understanding your data is vital to knowing what’s really happening in your stores.
Data analytics expert Joel Shapiro says data analytics should do three things for you:
- describe existing or past phenomena
- predict future events based on past data
- prescribe a course of action
Thanks to the massive amounts of data retailers have to consume and conflate, a dashboard view is crucial. It can help you stay on top of the details at all your stores, whether you have a handful of regional locations or a nationwide chain. However, according to Shapiro, most dashboards only help you see what has happened in the past, and often not very well. They “aren’t the magic view some managers treat them as. Although they can convey snapshots of important measures, dashboards are poor at providing the nuance and context that effective data-driven decision making demands,” he says.
Without a solution partner that understands your business and your goals, you might end up with a dashboard that misses important data cues, correlates trends incorrectly, or defaults to show you data that’s not important to your bottom line.
As you seek out analytics solutions for your business, you can avoid these missteps and make the most of your corporate reporting by making sure a solution meets these three criteria:
- Present all your data in one place
With paper reports or multiple electronic spreadsheets, it can be a struggle to scroll up or down a page, cross-referencing information across documents. Displaying all your data in one place in a dashboard allows you to consume the entire picture the data is providing. That’s the core of a dashboard, after all. But for a retailer, that’s still a lot of data. Whether you’re looking at over/shorts or deposit totals, you need every store, every transaction, every smart safe and every armored car delivery represented in one place — completely viewable at a glance. Data rollups, which show the accumulation of the source data, are a good place to start.
- Highlight the important data and get a path to action
When data is compiled and rolled up onto one screen, it’s imperative that you can identify and access the significant data you’re looking for. “Every dashboard is built on a set of priorities and assumptions about what’s important. Many times those priorities are defined by IT, a design expert, or a consultant who deploys dashboards and doesn’t know the company that well. Sometimes, the priorities may even be the default measurements provided by the dashboard software,” says Shapiro. “In many of these cases, companies end up with official-looking views into data that doesn’t align with business priorities.” When you consider new corporate reporting solutions, make sure the technology provider has experience and expertise in retail — not just in software creation — so you get a solution that addresses the unique challenges of the retail environment.
With data of retail magnitude, it can be hard to spot exceptions. You want to have access to all your data but still be guided to the vital pieces of data that might qualify as an exception. To do this, you need a path forward to that data, and each step down the path must show what the next step is, or “prescribe a course of action,” as Shapiro says. A solution backed by retail expertise will put exceptions in a context and on a path that makes it easy for you to take action.
- Outline the path taken
Once you’re on the path to the data you need, it can be tough to remember the steps you took to get there. Pressing the browser’s back button only resets the data and puts you back at square one. What you need are breadcrumbs that show you where you’ve been. What piece of data drove you to take this step? How does the data of this current step factor into the data from the last step? Seeing the previous step, in conjunction with the current step and future step, allows you to capture the complete picture of the path. This comprehensive view and guided process mean you won’t waste time searching — and re-searching — for the information you need to act fast.
When you investigate corporate reporting solutions, keep these crucial points in mind as you make your selection. If you do, you’ll not only have simple access to every piece of data, but a clear path to what’s important and how you figured that out. Whether you’re analyzing customer cash usage, deposit tracking or employee performance, the data is there. Just make sure it’s easy to find.