During discussions, I often come across the question: “How is it possible to manage the coordination of such a variety of activities that fly around me?” In addition to management lessons about delegation and people smarter than you, trust, ethics in business, the third sector and leisure activities, the talk usually also comes to data.
When delegating the achievement of goals through several levels, it is possible to get stuck in a lot of dead ends and work your way up to incredible bureaucratic structures and rules. On the other hand, new management approaches and technologies make it possible to achieve non-negligible simplifications and saving of entire horizons in management structures.
Data Driven Decision Making
I will leave the topic of management methodologies in our organizations to my colleagues, but I would like to describe the technologies supporting modern management in the next few blogs. I’ll start with data in the life of management. Managers are a group that needs accurate information presented in different forms and contexts in decision-making processes. Based on them, it is possible to implement management in the style of Data Driven Decision Making.
A new wave of digitization is taking place at our clients, but also in our companies, which brings with it one interesting accompanying phenomenon in the implemented processes. If the process is well implemented, it does not produce any “word, excel, or mail” as its output. Of course, notifications or static reports can be generated, but it is not the primary output. Individual processes of management and operation of organizations take place in a number of systems, but important information for the whole forms the data ecosystem of an organization or a group of cooperating organizations.
Paradoxically, the real opportunity is not about technologies, they are just a condition for automating and speeding up the whole process. The opportunity is primarily in a deeper understanding of one’s own workspace and the ability to make decisions based on a much larger set of information. They can be effectively understood only on the basis of knowledge of one’s space.
Historically, we have had Business Intelligence (BI) solutions on the market for years, which, after successful implementation, can provide managers with important information and context. On the other hand, we have experience from a number of projects that this area was relatively cumbersome and without a strong background either at the supplier or in internal IT it was not possible to proceed from the framework of pre-prepared reports. In other words – either the reporting was frozen in some form and did not reflect ongoing requirements, or it was expensive.
Personally, I always worked with several management reports, but if I was interested in details or contexts of other data, I had to use classic Excel and work mostly with outdated data.
A fundamental change came into my life about two years ago when we decided on the Tableau platform. This platform brought incredible progress and comfort when working with data. The manager’s role changes from a consumer of ready-made reports to a researcher of contexts in his own company within a few days. Several clients without an IT background show enthusiasm for their research in their own data space.
The development of technologies mostly takes place in certain predictable cycles. Rapid changes in user needs create demand in the early stages with large customers and are often reflected in basic research. At this stage of need fulfillment, huge investments are involved and solutions come in expensive, custom-built solutions. Most of them are doomed to be forgotten. Some of the solutions turn into the first products and these are used by another group of so-called trend-setters, someone who is willing to pay relatively much for solutions that are very likely to become the basis of future mass products. After the market is dominated by big brands, mostly after the first years, there is room for innovation and refactoring of good ideas. This has also happened in the world of BI, and Tableau is a product of this category. https://www.tableau.com/reports/gartner. These penetrations of new products are mostly “stopped” after a successful market launch and acquired by big players (in this case it was the predator Salesforce).
When I return to the idea of the situation in which my colleagues and I found ourselves a few years ago, I am very glad that we chose the path of introducing the Management Information System.
In the beginning, information was contained in a number of applications that were minimally interconnected. They only met in Excel after a long email consolidation and we made decisions blindly. Data-wise, we literally lived in the past closed with accounting data for completed months, information about the work done in Jira, and in Excel, we tried to interpret future estimates and managed the company according to the balance on the bank accounts.
From the user’s point of view, Tableau forms the core of the Management Information System today. The management uses the cloud presentation layer Tableau Online, where all important reports are available via a web browser or via a mobile application for phones, but mainly tablets.
Several people in the company are modeling their real-time analytics on top of the data cubes using Tableau Desktop. We use shared data sources in which we have linked data from the store, the financial department, the current status of projects and allocated resources on projects, the reported time of employees on individual projects and tasks, up to information from banks and customers.
A look into the future
Currently, we see the balance sheets of each project in the past and in the future. At the word future, I would be close.
Considering the number of projects we have implemented together with our customers, I can openly say that systematic information about the future is not at all a standard available to our clients’ management. It is a relatively long way from the decision to systematically capture the future to its fulfillment. It goes from covering “white non-digital processes” and ensuring the consolidation of new data with the rest of the organization’s data space to data visualization in BI.
In our case, the future is represented by financial information in the form of future revenues and costs, business opportunities and information about planned resources on projects. This information was completely missing. We had to introduce processes in which we record all planned costs and revenues. We supported the business process with a process in JIRA, in which today we record all the activities of the business departments and we record the planned resources for projects in the tools of our Icelandic partner https://www.tempo.io/. We arrived at this configuration after years of searching, but the result is great. Today, our customers also use it. Only a mix of these data can give us estimates of turnover, EBITDA, Cash Flow, or utilization of teams in the future with specific probability. Shared data cubes can be analyzed with Tableau Desktop in near real-time, allowing you to search for answers to emerging questions.
Another dimension that helps many times is data visualization. Most reports are about tables, but many contexts are much more obvious in a graphical context. Some trends in visual reports are recognized by the human eye immediately, while at the level of evaluating tables or common algorithms they would be invisible.
One of Tableau’s strengths is the global community around the https://public.tableau.com/ project, where hundreds of visualizations, infographics and reports are freely published daily. All of them are also available in source form and it is possible to get inspired. You are not alone, the Tableau community is also strong on Stackoverflow and Github. If you would like to know the facts, e.g. about episodes vs. STAR WARS characters in time, I recommend as an example https://public.tableau.com/profile/varunvarma87#!/vizhome/Starwarsscreentime/StarwarsScreentime and then you can get lost in the world of inspiration around.
If you want to share your open data analysis with others, it is possible to publish your outputs via the Tableau Public platform. To create publicly published outputs, you can use the free version of Tableau public https://public.tableau.com/en-us/s/download.
For me, Tableau Portfolio is a platform I’ve been waiting for. Combined with ETL tools like Pentaho, Talend and the mathematical support of Machine Learning Apache Spark, this is the missing piece of the puzzle that I found. It is a tool that allows you to see and understand data while solving your tasks. It is a self-service BI tool that can be used in a corporate environment with many data sources, but it is also suitable as a supplement to common office tools. It can work with data from scaled big data sources, databases, files, Google sheets to external data sources such as OpenData endpoints or sources such as https://data.world/.
YOU CAN STILL BE IN MARRIAGE WITH Excel, BUT TABLEAU IS YOUR LOVER