Companies today generate huge amounts of data. Many organizations can no longer handle their data requirements with simple BI solutions, especially when they’re collecting millions or even billions of rows of data. Big data solutions can help to tackle this mountain of data, but they’re only part of the greater picture.
For companies dealing with big data, turning that data into insight is essential. While a company may have access to massive amounts of data, that data isn’t very useful until it’s been analyzed and interpreted. Big data tools can help with this, but they can only go so far. For data to actually be useful, it has to be actionable.
To say that data needs to be ‘actionable’, means presenting insights in a way that can be easily leveraged to drive business decisions. This means the data needs to be displayed in its proper context, accurately, and in a place where the people who need it can view it. Businesses can use this data to drive better decisions, whether it’s making marketing campaigns more efficient or improving company-wide productivity.
Actionable data is presented in a way that it can actually lead to improved decisions. It’s the data that allows businesses to take action. Not all data is actionable; in fact, most isn’t. The main goal of any BI tool is to turn the raw, unfiltered data it collects into actionable data that drives insight.
Actionable data is the end product of a BI tool’s processes and procedures. It’s essential, accurate, timely, and presented in an easy-to-understand way. Unlike the raw data that a BI tool connects, actionable data can be used to draw clear implications and improve business processes.
Actionable data can help businesses to make better decisions, develop new products and services, establish effective marketing strategy, identify customers’ needs, increase revenue, reduce expenses, and improve efficiency. Without actionable data, businesses are flying blind. The right data can help deliver competitive advantage to companies that use it properly.
Making data actionable isn’t a one-time process; data exists on a spectrum from raw to actionable. BI tools do their best to make data as actionable as possible, but end users still need to put in some work.
What does actionable data look like?
It’s important to know how actionable your data is, and why it is or isn’t actionable, so that you can make changes to how your BI tool operates. If the data your BI tool generates isn’t actionable, something needs to change.
For example, if your BI tool generates a report that shows you how much marketing spend you have for each month, but it doesn’t distinguish between the different marketing channels, it’s not actionable data. It can’t drive insight or improve decision-making. Something needs to change before that data can be used to drive insight.
Not all actionable data looks the same. Actionable data takes on different forms depending on its intended use and audience. However, there are a few guidelines for determining whether the data outputted by your BI tool is actionable.
Actionable data is accurate. To be actionable, data has to be correct. Incorrect data shouldn’t be used to drive insight, for obvious reasons. Often, users struggle to realize that the data they’re using is incorrect, and they make bad decisions based on it.
BI tools have many different safeguards in place to ensure the information reaching the end user is correct. These include features like data cleansing, which helps to remove outliers, formatting mistakes, and incorrect data, and data validation, which ensures that data is formatted in a way that a BI tool can understand. Often, these tools can operate autonomously, but sometimes they require human input.
Data systems run on the principle of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. This means that if the data you put in your BI tool is inaccurate, it’s going to output bad information. If you want your BI tool to generate accurate reports, make sure that you’re using accurate information.
Actionable data is accessible. The people who need the data should be able to actually see and use the data. While this may seem simple, it can be a difficult task in larger organizations. We recommend using a cloud-based solution like Domo that allows employees to access data anywhere, anytime.
It should also be relatively simple to navigate a BI tool to access this data. Many BI tools on the market are complex pieces of software that require technical expertise to properly navigate. For those that want everyone in their organization driving insight, a simpler-to-understand BI tool like Domo is ideal.
Actionable data is timely. Data should reflect reality in as close to real-time as possible. To drive insights and help users make accurate decisions, data needs to be up to date. Outdated data is ineffective for solving problems, since the situation implied by the data doesn’t accurately reflect the situation as it’s actually happening.
For example, let’s say you’re using your BI tool to track the number of emails sent out by your marketing team. If it only shows the amount of emails sent two months ago, there’s no way for you to accurately assess whether or not they were effective. You don’t know what happened in between those two months, so the data is effectively useless.
Actionable data is easy to understand. With dashboarding and other data visualization tools, data can be presented in a format that’s easy for non-data professionals to understand. However, BI tools often leave the choice of what form that visualization should take up to those creating the dashboards.
All too often, dashboard builders use data visualizations that are a bad fit for the sort of data they want to represent. This leads to the data and its visualization working at cross purposes. The data is then hard to understand, through no fault of the data’s.
Everyone who builds dashboards needs a basic understanding of how data should be presented, either visually or through statistics. Without that understanding, data isn’t as actionable as it could be.
How can I make my data more actionable?
Many companies already have all the tools they need to turn data into actionable insight. They have a robust and useful BI tool, they have the data experts necessary to use that tool properly, and their employees are informed enough to use the data they collect properly.
However, only a few companies actually capitalize on that data to make that data actionable. Here are a few strategies to make the data your company collects more useful.
Contextualize it. Data is only useful if it’s presented in context. For KPIs and other useful metrics, benchmarking is important, as it allows employees to compare current trends to historical ones. Users can implement other kinds of comparisons for other types of data which can help highlight comparisons.
It’s also important to keep in mind external factors that might affect the reliability of the data. For example, a manager might find that productivity metrics dipped slightly in November compared to previous months. This could be due to some unseen problem, but it’s more likely that time off for Thanksgiving impacted that month’s KPIs.
In this case, the added context didn’t change the accuracy of the data, but it did change the insight a manager should draw from it. Context allows for a better picture of the data, which drives more effective insight.
Align it with your goals. Know what answers you’d like to get out of your data, and which data streams are the best choice to drive insight. Knowing the right questions to ask, and what data to measure to get valid answers to those questions, is an essential skill for anyone interacting with a BI tool.
BI tools that offer robust ad-hoc reporting tools like Domo make asking the right questions easier. Through ad-hoc reporting, employees can quickly put together new data sources, analyse them in new ways, and construct new dashboards, all by themselves.
Make sure the right people see it. All too often, businesses have access to actionable data, but it’s not going to the right places. To be useful, data needs to be visible to the people who can actually take advantage of it. In some organizations, this means senior staff need to take a more active view of their data. In others, frontline workers need more access to the data that drives their work.
Closely related to this is ensuring that employees can actually understand critical data. While employees don’t need any special training to use today’s BI software, they need a certain level of data literacy to actually make use of the data once they’ve got it.
Business leaders are always looking for ways to drive insights that help them to make decisions easier. Data is the raw material of any business, and if you can’t turn data into actionable information then it becomes useless. In practice, this means your company will be out-performed by firms with better intelligence on their customers or more effective operations. Modern businesses need a solution like Domo’s enterprise cloud platform and apps, which empowers companies to produce high quality analytics from all aspects of their operations in real time without having to build complex systems themselves. A company culture built around actionable data will not only save valuable time and money, but also ensure a competitive edge over other businesses operating in the same industry.
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