BI data dashboards help businesses focus on analytics ROI

Advanced analytics tools have taken over the spotlight, but officials in some organizations say business intelligence dashboards are still where the money is on their BI investments.

Flashy topics like big data analytics and predictive modeling get a lot of attention these days, and for good reason: There's certainly lots of potential for advanced analytics technologies to be game changers for businesses. But many organizations are still finding the most analytics value in tried-and-true business intelligence data dashboards.

For example, Greg Backhus, director of data warehousing and BI at jewelry retailer Helzberg Diamonds, said his team is focused on developing BI dashboards because that's where the biggest return on investment (ROI) can be found for the company. "We have a lot of content that we generate in the form of reports," he said. "We knew there was a huge need for that."

Currently, Backhus and his team primarily develop dashboards for analyzing sales data from Helzberg stores using WebFocus, a BI tool from Information Builders. In one case, they created a Web-based dashboard that store managers and company executives can use to check trends in the types of items being purchased, track the impact of promotions on sales and monitor the performance of stores by region. Some of the content is presented as data visualizations, while other dashboard elements are just straightforward numbers. Either way, Backhus said the goal is to make interpreting the information quick and easy for the users.

In turn, he added, having the data available has made the organization more nimble and efficient in responding to changes in customer preferences. Helzberg hasn't calculated a hard ROI on its investment in the BI dashboard software, but Backhus said the company has also become much more timely and accurate in its decision-making processes since it first implemented the WebFocus tool in 2009.

Data dashboards deliver actionable info

The BI team is evaluating higher-end data visualization tools and other next-generation analytics tools -- but for now, Backhus thinks the simple kind of data dashboard Helzberg is using provides more actionable information than the output of more advanced analytics applications would. "As much as we wanted to migrate toward something more visual, it had to do reporting," he said, referring to the process of selecting the current BI tool.

Some days it's tough to look in the mirror, but at least we can see what went wrong and not make that mistake the next night.
Mitch Wachmanvice president of operations, Nath Companies Inc.

He's not alone in that feeling. In the latest Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study from Dresner Advisory Services, released in May, survey respondents ranked BI dashboards as their top technology initiative for 2015. Hotter analytics topics ranked much farther down the list of top concerns. For example, data mining and advanced algorithm development came in at eight, big data at 18 and text analytics at 20.

Part of the reason users say traditional BI data dashboards provide so much value is because they tell management teams how their organizations are doing at a given time. Forecasting future trends or mining social media data can be useful to business executives as well, but few things are more valuable than simply knowing how well things are going.

"Some days it's tough to look in the mirror, but at least we can see what went wrong and not make that mistake the next night," said Mitch Wachman, vice president of operations at Nath Companies Inc., which operates the Minnesota-based restaurant chains Axel's Restaurants and Bonfire Wood Fire Cooking.

Dashboard menu item: Instant feedback

At nine of its restaurants, Nath uses a real-time feedback tool from Humm Systems that lets diners provide feedback while they wait for their check. Data from the tool is funneled into a dashboard that enables restaurant managers as well as company executives to track customer satisfaction scores. Every Monday, the company's executive team meets to go over the numbers in the dashboard to see how they're doing and brainstorm potential operational improvements.

Wachman said this has allowed managers to zero in on and address long-term problems, such as an ineffective server or a particular menu item that frequently gets cooked wrong. He wouldn't share a hard estimate of the company's ROI from the feedback tool, but he did say it has more than paid for itself. Since implementing the tool and the data dashboard in 2013, Nath has seen double-digit yearly growth in revenue at the restaurants using the technology, which surpasses previous growth rates, according to Wachman. In addition, the general customer satisfaction score at the restaurants has increased from an average of 88% to 95%.

"The analytics helps us look at the trends at one store or everything combined," he said. "The dashboard really helps us drill down."

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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