Data Consumers Left Out in the Cold?

While pretty pictures as reports look nice -- and easy to understand -- for an analyst, the consumer of that data might sit there and say, "Huh?"

What is more important, data that goes into a report or the person consuming the report?

The data often takes center stage with little thought given to the consumer. The overriding goal becomes what is the best way to present the data, and even what color the report should be. But what about those poor souls who use the report to make decisions or gain insights? How does an organization address their needs?

How do you find reports?In any corporation I visit, there seem to be several tools in use. Some tools are specific to one department, while the entire organization access others. There are many portals and access methods. It leaves me wondering how consumers get information and even know how where to look.

If all reports are accessed through a corporate portal and each tool has a different usage method. I can see why users retreat to the safety of a spreadsheet or ask for assembled reports. It is easier than learning how to interact with a system. I wonder if once they do find a path to the data, what happens? Do they bookmark the page or screen capture the page in Evernote? Perhaps they subscribe to the report so an email reminder arrives every morning?

What does the report mean? Some of the reports I see are poorly done. It’s not clear what question the report is trying to answer. The data visualizations are cool rather than insightful. Bubble plots come to mind as an example. Hans Rosling used the technique effectively for his TED Talk. However, when used for the wrong reason, it's just a confusing mess. What do consumers think when they see these report elements?

You can glance at some reports to surmise the report builder didn’t understand the consumer. Perhaps the report builder was expecting a certain level of competence. One report builder told me that everyone would know [insert-your-favorite-statistical-trend] meant. It was hard to believe that statement. The second requirement was a button that allowed the consumer to view the data in a spreadsheet. Why was the button needed? So the consumers could do their own independent analysis. Perhaps the report was nothing more than a fancy ETL tool.

Consider the consumers new to a job. I wonder how they learn to use a poorly-designed dashboard. I see many dashboards gauges on reports but without any text to explain when it means in a red state. It’s not clear what should happen. Many lack supporting charts around the gauges to help the consumer understand what to do next. Is running down the hall screaming the appropriate response or perhaps just keep an eye on it?

Is there a solution? I’m not sure what solutions to offer. It depends on the organization. Some organizations have better standards. Their reports provide counting rules. The dashboard gauges have clear text with supporting charts. They insist on formal adoption methodsto ensure understanding and usage. Some organizations go further and provide training to consumers on KPIs and basic statistical methods. All seem like a reasonable way to invest in a data-driven company.


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