What’s all the BI fuss about!

As a business owner, or manager you will no doubt have found yourself from time to time, and perhaps even frequently, wondering just how the business is doing? You know that knawing sense of not being quite sure if you are on a solid footing or, if the current trends continue, what the bank balance is likely to look like in a month or a year.

Imagine having a single place to go, where you can see the Key Performance Indicators, that at-a-glance tell you how you are doing. A series of thoughtful and relevant measures that let you make informed decisions about the next best actions to take.

This week I found myself needing to point people to a few resources that help show the benefits of implementing a Business Intelligence (BI) platform to enable visual-data decision making in their business.

Here are some resources that will give you a sense of what BI might be able to do for you.

Every now and then I stumble across some quality, easy to read visual-data. This one showing growth in the city of Casey (Victoria, Australia) tells a story, without making you work at it.

If you go and explore it, be sure to click the map.

Flock Consulting’s Regional Tourism Organisation visitor stats dashboards are worth exploring. Scroll to the bottom of this page, and click around in the dashboard to see what they reveal. Be sure to click on the little diagonal arrow in the lower right corner to expand it to fill your screen.

Some extensive Power BI Dashboards & Reports. This 10 min video has an annoying voice over, but the content is good for showing what’s possible 🙂

An article titled: Investment in business analytics returns more than 10x shows that the ROI in BI continues to increase.

What is visual-data decision making, is an earlier blog post with an excellent video, showing the power of visualising data.

Google Sheets and BigQuery

Just when I had concluded Google Sheets was only useful as a Data Analysis tool for SME’s, Google announce their next lineup of features, like connecting Sheets to BigQuery so that pivot tables, formulas and charts, can now be done on billions of rows of data inside BigQuery.

The video is set to skip to 34m20s, but you may want to watch more.

Thanks Ben Collins for the blog post

What is visual-data decision making?

Human beings are always working to make the best of our current circumstance. In the context of the long now, we notice that for most of human history, we’ve lived in small tribes in an unpredictable wilderness, as nature marched on to the beat of her own ecological drum.

In this context, our brains began to refine the gathering and categorising of data, via the human senses of Sight. Hearing, Touch, Smell, Taste (and a Sixth sense that is harder to pinpoint).


Our eyes look for visual cues, and the meaning we can make of patterns, shapes, and movement (trends). We seek to understand what they are telling us.

We know that some visual indicators are better than others, showing a more accurate (more complete) view of the current reality, and seek them out so we can make the decisions that will benefit our tribe/organisation.

In this one piece of visual data (below), David McCandless reveals how much data each of the senses is processing, by comparing it to the processing power of computer technology, and scaling the coloured segments accordingly. Sight comes out as the clear winner!

In his TED talk (below), McCandless turns complex data sets, like worldwide military spending, media buzz, and Facebook status updates, into beautiful, simple diagrams that tease out unseen patterns and connections. Good design, he suggests, is the best way to navigate information glut — and it may just change the way we see the world (or our organisations).


Visual information is transformed in our brain, and becomes memory, and our organisations have been gathering this data in computer (or cloud) memory for years. We sense it’s a treasure, but we haven’t invested the resources to learn how to drill into it, for its hidden insights.

Every time I show someone how to drill into the details of the data at will, and as they begin to feast on the pictures it reveals, the sense of delight is a palpable.

Now it has become affordable to take our data assets, and turn them into pictures, so the shapes and patterns in visual-data become easy to read. This is the art, and what follows is what I have come to term visual-data decision making.


Melissa Pollock suggests visual-data, speeds up informed decision making.

“As business leaders, we are also driven by visual data. Decision-making relies on data, and visualisations make it easy to understand the volumes of market, company, employee and customer analytics. And seeing the data represented in comparative trends, speeds our ability to identify where and how to pivot in order to meet goals!”


We generally accept that collaboration is part of the organisation’s decision making process. So a question arises: Who do you need to share your data-inspired insights with, and who’s insights will you include in your analysis?

If we can capture (as images) the visuals we find on our exploration of the data, we maybe able to help each other see things we might otherwise have missed. Such collections of shared insights, have the power to offer a more complete picture, and make the next decision obvious.

Next I’ll look at the questions of:

  • What sort of data?
  • Where does it come from?
  • How current is it?

Looking at the Numbers

The Race is On, pointed to the power of data visualisation and I promised to follow up to share my choice, following the Domo fail.

After writing I was contacted by my friend Jon Foote at Flock Consulting, who was generous in sharing his experience and pointing me to the top three data visualisation tools in the market today. They subsequently appeared in a Gartner survey, which was reassuring, given I only have so much time to commit to researching the many tools available, and there are plenty . . .

Given my preference for Mac tools (yes I’ve used PC’s extensively too) I was looking for a web browser service that is platform agnostic. I’ve settled on Qlik Sense Cloud and am currently learning the tool, using data from my friend Don’s Penati business.

Qlik’s Associative Engine, a step up from the old SQL queries, lets you combine all your data sources, no matter how many, or how large. It will index all the relationships and make it ready to be explored. This has the potential of revealing insights that would otherwise be hard to spot.

BUT before you run off and start learning Qlik or seek out some help setting it up for your business, stop . . . and ask yourself: “What questions should I be asking?”

As a business owner, you likely have several strategic goals you want to reach, and probably have specific business questions around how you are performing against those targets and the steps you know you have to make to reach them.

Ideal business questions help you track your progress toward your desired end goal or outcome:

What eventual business outcome am I aiming for?

  • What actions will I take?
  • What metrics will I need to track, to improve performance?
  • As you come up with a list of questions, focus on the One Metric That Matters.

You won’t even need the power of Qlik for this, a simple scoreboard will do, but it will, sure as eggs is eggs, get you started on a journey of discovering the power of focus, and of data.

The race is on

When a company sets an entry-level pricing for their data analytics and visualisation product at $100,000 pa, what does that say about the confidence they feel about their position in the market?

Domo has done this in the last few weeks, and hopefully they’ll take their 30 day trial off their website. With no pricing published online inviting people to spend a month building some visualisations, only to be told that it’s going to cost you $100k a year, is rude!

While it was inconvenient and a bit of a shock, I’m grateful for the insight. It says a lot about the demand for BI and analysis of large data sets.

According to a Forrester Research report Predictions 2017: Artificial Intelligence Will Drive The Insights Revolution, AI-driven companies will take $1.2 trillion from competitors by 2020.

If their prediction from two years ago was right, we’re on the cusp of major disruption.

Businesses are starting to realise the power in the numbers, but even more than that, the power in having those numbers visualised in ways the make the insights leap off the page. Perhaps it requires drilling down one or two levels to get the deeper insights, and check one’s assumptions, but if the first-glance can spark a question and the drill down’s are quick, then the intelligence can be tapped into rapidly.

The demand is growing rapidly for tools that can manage large datasets and allow you to rapidly build visualisations, without the need for code. Domo does this, but sadly it’s out of the range for most businesses with its current price tag. So in the next article, I’ll write about some affordable alternatives that can help you keep a finger on the pulse of the most important metrics in your business.

If you could only measure one thing

One Metric That Matters

Visualising data is getting easier, with tools like qlik.com, powerbi.com, geckoboard.com, octoboard.com, mixpanel.com, kissmetricshq.com, totango.com, chartbeat.com, and others.

While the data you collect may be helpful, you first need to reduce the noise.

Why just One Metric

Simplicity: Though it’s a single metric it might be a complex metric. In fact, the best metric may end up being a composite metric. But the key is that it’s a single simple point of focus for you and the team.

Focus: With only one metric you can focus solely on driving that number.

Experimentation: The team might not be clear how they can drive this metric. There may be a variety of ideas, but not all of them will work. The use of the one metric that matters approach grounds all conversations and ideas around what will move the needle for this one metric. It will require innovation, collaboration and experimentation.

Flexibility: What’s the most important metric in the business right now — the one to measure, the thing that’s most broken. Find the single metric that’s most important for the stage of your company’s development — then be ready to change it.

Perhaps you’ve optimised the number of enrolments in your gym — but now you need to focus on cost per customer so you turn a profit.

Maybe you’ve increased traffic to your website — but now you need to maximize conversion.

Perhaps you have the foot traffic in your coffee shop you’ve always wanted — but now you need to get people to buy more than just one coffee while using your wifi for hours.

Identifying a good metric

A rate or ratio is better than an absolute or cumulative value. For example, “New users per day” is better than “Total users.” Absolute numbers tend to be vanity metrics.

Is it comparative to other time periods, sites, or segments? “Increased conversion from last week” is better than “2% conversion.”

It should be no more complicated than a golf handicap. A good metric has to be incredibly simple and easy to understand; otherwise, people won’t remember it and discuss it.

For “accounting” metrics that report on the state of the business (to the board, investors, bank, etc.), your metric needs to be reflected in the bottom line.

Make sure that your One Metric that Matters directly assesses how your business is doing against the purpose of the business.

The more specific the better. It’s important to stay away from aggregated totals, so your OMTM is not sales. Your OMTM may be sales per week for high volume customers. In this example you have now chosen a customer segment, a date range and together those make your metric specific and targeted, which in turn makes the next actions obvious.

I’ve had some fun over the holidays, building visualisations with domo.com, using six months worth of client data. The trick now is to see if they can identify the One Metric which will focus the team around a common and measurable goal.