TDWI Upside - Where Data Means Business

Deliver Consumable Analytics to Drive Action

In a world of information overload, analytics professionals have to focus on delivering consumable analytics. Visualizations and alert systems allow users to more easily consume and use data.

Today's world is characterized by the conflict between information overload and demand for quick information-based decisions.

This seemingly impossible situation is a challenge that analytics professionals face each day. Their ultimate test is to synthesize large amounts of information into something usable by end users -- into consumable analytics. What tools are available to help developers and analysts accomplish this goal?

Visualization Helps Users Understand Data Quickly

One of the greatest tools that a data analyst has is the art of visualization. There is a common saying that "a picture is worth a thousand words" and this is definitely true when it comes to information visualization. A single chart or graph can convey the meaning of a large set of data quickly and efficiently. The ultimate task of an analytics professional is to spin data into a story that can be easily understood and acted on.

To visualize data, common statistics such as sum, average, standard deviation, and percent of total are combined with color, size, shape, position, and intensity. A visualization can convey the larger situation or focus on a specific trend or finding. The results can quickly drive decisions.

In the past, visualizations had to be developed in specialized technologies such as Java applets and Flash, which did not display well on mobile devices. The advent of modern browsers and HTML5 allows easy access to visualization regardless of where the user is and what device they are using, increasing visualization's reach and potential.

Visualizations make it easy to consume large amounts of data in a simple and straightforward way and allow end users to get right to the point of what they need to see in the data.

Alerts Help Users Interact With Data at the Right Time

Providing users the ability to pull information on demand is critical. It allows users to get the information they want, when they want it.

The challenge is that some users can go days or months without interacting with the information. During this period, unnoticed changes in the data could have a huge impact on their businesses. A strong partner to the pull of on-demand reporting is the push of alerts.

Alerts can be delivered at specific time intervals or set to go out only when specific conditions are present. Timed alerts provide an anticipated flow of information to users, whereas those that are triggered go out sporadically based on events happening inside of the data itself. The sporadic nature of triggered alerts can increase the impetus to react to them.

Triggered alerts can be based on thresholds predefined in the system or they can leverage advanced analytics, such as clustering, to identify when some piece of information is out of the ordinary and important enough to merit a response. Using predictive analytics, alerts can be triggered when an event is first predicted, getting information in front of decision makers before the anticipated event occurs.

Optimizing Alerts for Best Response

The nature and frequency of these alerts need to be optimized to elicit the right response from the recipient. If a decision needs to be made immediately, the alert needs to be able to convey this. When a recipient receives many alerts that do not require action he or she may become desensitized to them and be less likely to act on future alerts.

Today these alerts can be targeted through many communication channels, and specific channels can provide additional context to the alert. Messages through email are less likely to immediately grab the attention of the recipient and might even be caught by spam filters. Messages through SMS, WhatsApp, or mobile in-app notifications have a higher likelihood of being viewed and can convey a higher level of alert, but they have to be used sparingly, or they may lose their long-term effectiveness.

Using these types of alerts effectively does the data analysis for the recipient and only delivers the components of the information that are applicable to the user. This reduces the time that an end user needs to be mired in the data and still allows the user to effectively make decisions.

Analytics professionals can overcome information overload by including visualizations and alert systems in their information delivery. This allows them to more effectively deliver consumable analytics with a higher potential for driving specific action.

About the Author

Troy Hiltbrand is the chief digital officer at Kyäni where he is responsible for digital strategy and transformation. You can reach the author at thiltbrand@kyanicorp.com.


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