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Hindsight Is So 2020: Connected Data Is the Future of Analytics

2020 calendar gives way to 2021 image
January 8, 2021

When we clinked our cocktail glasses at midnight last New Year’s Eve, we fulfilled the idiomatic expression of "Hindsight is 20/20" to its fullest extent. 

Almost immediately, we're able to look back and see 2020 for what it actually was, in a much clearer, more obvious way than we were able to see what was happening while we were in the middle of living it. 

In February 2013, Big Think magazine stated that when we would wake up on Jan. 1, 2020, analytics would have become so advanced that we literally be able to predict all of our future needs. Essentially, the magazine stated that our analytical technologies would have vastly improved our ability to have already enhanced the efficiency of massive operations using technology. Several mounting ingredients in the article had promised to see the "spread (of) predictive technologies, using bigger data, better computers, wider familiarity, and advancing sciences."

However, 2020 turned out to be the ultimate surprise test of how valuable and how ready our analytical intelligence was when a pandemic reached our doorsteps—and closed many doors.

Any time you turned on the TV news in 2020, you saw charts, graphics, and dashboards intended to indicate the latest trajectory of the pandemic—statistics, trends, and projections of all kinds. Though the dashboards were ubiquitous on television news, it had most people walking away more confused than enlightened. 

The simple fact is that even with all the advances in computing and technology, we couldn't make effective and intelligent scientifically backed validations from the data we did have fast enough in a time when we really needed it. Our last option was to perform an “alt+ctrl+del” on the world—global government officials almost overnight had to click "shut down" on broad sectors all over the globe. 

Despite all the progress that we’ve made becoming more data-driven over the last decade, the reality is not everyone is equipped with the skills to effectively use and read a dashboard. Dashboards are inherently subjective, meaning everyone can interpret them to their own intentions or agendas—leading to unnecessary friction when debating a decision. We’ve improved our ability to structure the data we create every day, but the tools that improve our ability to interpret and leverage that data haven’t managed to keep pace.

The decline of the dashboard triggers the crumbling of complexity 

Months ago, when Gartner said that dashboards will decline from use in analysis, they were right. Visual point-and-click technologies that we loved a decade ago for their simplicity and their beautiful design weren't helping us as much as they should. The reason is simple—dashboards and data visualization tools aren't designed to give us answers, they are designed to provide us with data points. Humans were still left to interpret answers to make decisions.

Herein lies one of the process issues, especially as it comes to risk reporting, when there is too much at stake to be left up to human error. Someone likely to use dashboards isn't expected to be delivering report intelligence with that same set of tools. To narrate or orate a good story with financial reporting—especially if you are using graphics or animation—the storyteller needs yet another tool when it comes to providing complete reports. 

Great analytics is about getting the storytelling right for the users. And if your users are not analytical by nature, they may need additional commentary to understand your dashboards. Without context, it's just another report that your consumers won’t read and don't want. Without contextual framing, it's more challenging to make an informed decision about a topic. People are left scratching their heads as they try to figure out what it all means when trying to interpret visual dashboards.

The problem is in the design of most dashboard visualization software tools today. They too often require users to upload and then connect to a data source, create the dashboard, and then snip the dashboard out of the tool, and pull it into yet another technology (often PowerPoint®) to type up the narrative to complete the story. That point of disconnect is where your extra work begins. It's also where data security goes down the tubes and most IT departments are left with a tool that "just doesn't complete the needs of our audience," as I recently heard in a customer meeting. 

Dashboard users are left having to settle for clumsy workarounds for data visualizations like charts and tables, where they are exported and then imported (or snipped, copied, and then pasted) into end-of-line reporting. This confusing process creates unnecessary complexity and wastes time and effort in a mostly human-work dominant process.  

When a company grows and expands or enters a period of change that is laden with risk, there is often more significant pressure to deliver quickly and move fast. Speed and need favors reducing complexity, not compounding it. If you’re seeing this problem today, don't continue to ignore these flaws in your analytics process—many of them can be quite detrimental to your long-term productivity. 

Connected reporting can help you to create a better future

If there is a positive outcome from the pressures of 2020, it's that being forced to adapt finally allowed the status quo to be challenged. Many people now have the proof needed to demonstrate to their leadership teams that they can finally break free from poor processes and trade up for more connected and complete analytical platforms. Workers can more efficiently serve their organization's strategic intent while also providing the day-to-day data needs for frontline workers who create analytics and intelligence.

In the future, analytical simplicity and connected truth become a central and critical component of how any organization would make their best decisions—acting upon these insights with full trust in their data, using connected charts and creative stories, and allowing employees to dedicate more of their efforts to analysis and other value-added tasks.

Yes, the new world will involve some labor pains to introduce this new existence. But be excited! Because with better, more connected, and trustworthy intelligence, we'll be able to contend with the limitations of material resources we have to use while revisioning what we need to cultivate more of and what we need to shed.

Cheers to innovation in 2021! 

To learn more about how connected data is at the forefront of the analytics revolution, join us for a free webinar: Connect It! From Data Origins to Repeatable Reports and Dashboards.

Have a report or a process that you want help with? Check out our Connect-it Challenge, where you can bring us your most complicated, most disconnected report to see how we can turn it into connected intelligence. 

PowerPoint is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries.

About the Author

Chuck joined Workiva in late 2019 as a Senior Technical Engineer, where he focuses on developing and bringing new concepts to life using an approach that helps customers to solve their intelligence challenges with the entire Workiva platform. His current mission is to demonstrate how the office of the CIO, and various other departments that often lay outside of Finance and Accounting arena, can leverage Wdata to solve their toughest problems.

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