Getting to the data - reporting and data analysis/manipulation

4 January 2023
Paul McGillivray

Getting to the data

Often, the reason many businesses decide to invest in software is to collect and analyse data related to their business. This usually begins with spreadsheets but can get out of hand quickly, creating the need for something more powerful and bespoke.

For example, collecting large amounts of data on stock, projects, tasks, or sales is useful, but very soon, businesses can own too much to simply browse through. Data is only useful when it can be analysed - sorted, filtered at several intersections, calculated with, or refined to isolate one important piece of information from the rest. Then you can understand and interpret what the data is telling you about your business.

By defining the ‘shape’ of the data, your software systems can understand how it needs to be displayed for you, and what calculations can be done with it, and you can save hours, days, and months of your teams’ valuable time as a result.

The power of data collection and analysis is that when written well, software systems can find and analyse data in a way that’s simply not possible with the human mind - we can’t absorb millions of rows of numbers and find variations and mistakes anywhere near as efficiently or effectively as a piece of dedicated software.

Automatically collected and delivered reports can give you at-a-glance performance stats, from sales data to performance metrics. How many leads came in this week? How many did we convert? Are we up on this year or down? Why? How’s our financial performance? What’s my next tax bill going to be?

All of these questions are quickly answered at a glance when you have the right software in front of you, and when you have your data collected in place using the previous methods we’ve discussed, this kind of analysis and reporting is easy to do, can save you hours, and keep your business on track.

Reports can come in several flavours. There’s the more traditional type that you most likely think of when I say ‘report’ - a page of numbers, summaries, and analysis. But there are also different views of the data, which might form dashboards of key metrics or tasks to do and complete.

We always aim to give our clients ‘sleep at night’ dashboards, which provide a single page that contains the numbers the business leaders need to know in order to sleep at night without any unanswered questions or concerns. In fact, we found this kind of dashboard so valuable that we created a dedicated company - - to build these dashboards for companies.

Different views of your data can help you to understand and manipulate that data easily.

A great example of one of these views is the kanban board; a set of vertical columns representing different stages of your sales pipeline or product/service delivery. ‘Cards’ represent tasks, leads, or jobs that start in the far left column, and are progressively moved to the right as they progress. This gives you an instant view of where you’re at with that pipeline - where are jobs piling up? How many leads do we have waiting for proposals? How many tasks have the team completed this week? 

The Kansan board is an excellent software evolution from the original Theory of Constraints idea in the manufacturing world; the board is your assembly line, and each step in your assembly line is now a column on the board. In the Theory of constraints, we look at the different stops on the assembly line to see where items are piling up - that’s your bottleneck. 

With a kanban board, you can see which column has the largest stack of cards assigned to it - now you can see your bottleneck.

Gantt charts are another - usually the realm of project managers, this chart is a timeline of all the planned tasks of a project - each item is listed as a row, and the length of the item is indicated by a horizontal bar; the longer the task will take to perform, the longer the bar. Lining up these bars in chronological order across the chart shows how long the project will take in total, and the chart can be used as an organic, always-up-to-date indicator of project progress; you can see whether you’re behind or ahead, and what tasks depend on others.

This kind of at-a-glance data analysis can give you the edge with your business. As more of our work becomes digital, we can’t tell how our company is doing by simply looking at our team sitting behind their computers. We need the data in front of us in a way that we can see what’s actually happening in the background.

This empowers us as business leaders to make the right decisions at the right time and keep our business thriving.

Paul McGillivray

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