Richard Goodfellow August 19, 2020

How to gain additional insight from your data. Visualise your data and automate data preparation

If you are familiar with data analysis, you will understand that creating data visualisations is a key requirement. We’re very much in the age of Big Data, and while technology is rapidly advancing, many businesses are still using traditional methods, such as solely using Microsoft Excel to report on their data and spending weeks each reporting cycle to do so.

This may have been a perfectly viable solution at the time of implementation, however; long-term the results you will see from your data will be restricted.

How to gain additional insight from your data. Visualise your data and automate data preparation

What is wrong with Excel?

As spreadsheet tools are typically manipulated by manually setting formulas these are only as good as the skills of the person creating them.

Each graph and table created requires significant thought and focus to make it to look the way you want. In addition, careful attention is needed to ensure all the data is displayed correctly each time you refresh the dataset.

Making these reports interactive for users, beyond the use of simple pivot charts exceeds the capability of the majority of excel users, so if you’re eager to prematurely go grey or lose your hair, please continue doing what you’ve always done – there are better ways to complete these tasks and learn more from your data.

Data visualisation tools are becoming increasingly important to organisations that are looking to understand their data further and identify trends and outliers.

Why do I recommend data visualisation tools to our clients?

1. They make it easier to generate interactive charts.

Instead of having to create or copy the same chart many times over to distribute reports to multiple teams, you can create the one chart once and with a simple parameter make the chart dynamic based on a user’s selections. Providing Analysts more time  investigate the data, look for trends, outliers etc.

2. They make it easier to tell the story of your data.

Effective storytelling using your data is essential if you want people to be able to take action from what is presented to them. Tools that lower barriers for your staff in creating and telling data stories are essential if you want to promote data-driven decision making in your business.

3. They enhance a team’s analytical capabilities

These tools enable analysts to more easily ask new questions and gather new answers from your data.  Subsequently teams can focus on undertaking additional analysis of the data and discovering new insights.

Why do I recommend automating data preparation tasks to our clients?

1. They free up time, enabling analysts to spend time on higher value tasks, such as compiling insights.

Teams can focus on providing value added insights to reports. Analysts have more time to investigate and understand the drivers behind the numbers. Subsequently the conversations between decision makers and reporting teams shift from being focused solely on report production deadlines, to those that are more dynamic and focused on providing insight to answer business questions.

2. They allow regularly produced reports to be available to leadership quickly, usually within one business day.

Automating data collection and data processing by utilising scheduled tasks provides significant reductions in time taken to compile reports. An automated process also assists in making the data more accurate and up to date. With insights available sooner businesses can make important decisions faster decisions to positively impact business outcomes.

3. They reduce the administrative burden of compiling regular reporting

Automation of data preparation tasks can reduce weeks of work undertaken on a regular basis into automatically produced dashboards for your business. Administrative data preparation tasks are now solely limited to reviewing data processing outputs.

Which tools should I consider?

Data Visualisation

  • PowerBI
    If you are an Excel junkie or your business utilises the Microsoft Technology Stack.
  • Tableau
    If beautiful graphical design is essential for your reports or you want a tool that makes it easy for your analysts to follow their instincts whilst investigating the data. Take a look at and explore what’s possible on Tableau Public’s Viz of the day
  • Python’s libraries such as Plotly
    If you are exploring data science options to solve business problems or you are a statistician or programmer.
  • ElasticSearch’s Kibana
    If your data is constantly flowing into an unstructured data environment and you need to track live trends.

Automate Data Preparation

  • Power Query
    If you’re steadfast on sticking with using Excel only, I cannot recommend this enough. Take the time to introduce yourself to the features of which comes standard with Excel 2016 and onwards, this tool can help you automate data manipulation procedures. As an added benefit by learning how to use it you will be many steps ahead if you choose to utilise PowerBI to visualise your data as PowerBI’s data model utilises the same technology.
  • Knime
    If you are keen on a tool that is open source, this tool enables you create data process flows by configuring modules using a point and click approach.
  • Tableau Prep
    If you are already using Tableau for data visualisation in your organisation, this tool will assist you to automate the processes you are likely undertaking manually at the moment.
  • Alteryx
    If you need a self-service Data Analytics platform that has all the bells and whistles, is well supported and your business does not bork at yearly licencing costs.

To finish, I’ll quote the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (Circa 500BC).

“To do the same thing over and over again is not only boredom: it is to be controlled by rather than to control what you do.”

If you are personally stuck doing the same task in Excel over and over, please find a better way, learn something new and develop some new skills. Take back control of what you do, it will be fun.

If you are a leader enable your team by releasing control of how they deliver outcomes and encourage use of tools like the ones above. Your team will be happier, and they will reward you with improved outcomes.

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