How to Find the Right Blender for Your Data Smoothie
In the 21st Century, every manager wants to use their data to further their goals; however, where their data lives can be a massive hindrance to creating actionable insights. To quickly and accurately gauge the performance of a business, project, team or activity, managers need to be able to get data in one place, but the components are often in disparate locations.
A retail store, for instance, may use a separate software for its brick-and-mortar sales than to track its online sales. Each software may offer complex dashboarding that allows the manager to see real-time sales and costs, but neither can provide a wholistic view of daily performance because the systems remain segregated.
Accountants who work with small to medium-sized businesses and nonprofits see variations of this at their clients all the time, with one common core — not being able to see the whole picture is frustrating. What’s more, creating integrated systems often is seen as costly, time consuming and solely for data scientists or some other computer wiz — leading managers to wholly discard the idea.
Fortunately, you don’t need a computer science degree or to have spent the past 15 years learning to code to aggregate your data. You just need a powerful blender — one that can make a data smoothie that will put all of your data in a common place with the ability to reach any of it at a moment’s notice.
For many people, the first step in finding common ground in data is to export from whichever system to Microsoft Excel, and, truth-be-told, Excel is considered to be the single source of truth when it comes to data analysis — every system can get to Excel! But Excel is merely a standard Black and Decker blender for your data, where you have to add each ingredient separately. Sure, it will mix things up, but it will leave plenty of chunks behind, and you’ll have to restart the process every time you want a smoothie.
What you’re looking for is the Margaritaville Blender, the one where the ice drops in from the top, that keeps part of the process fully ready to create your data concoction. You obtain this through automation, which probably sounds a lot harder than it is. All you need to do is create a path for the data to consistently follow and show up in the right place. There is no shortage of tools to accomplish this, one of which is already included with your Excel license — Power Query.
This tool creates connections between data by user-defined relationships similar to how a relational database operates. If the sources of your data are not already blendable, you can map out the steps that will make it blend, and, if done correctly, the data will always follow that path. Power Query also allows for direct connections to inputs from many different data sources, so you no longer have to prepare the ingredients. Forget blenders, we’ve now purchased a full-service frozen drink machine (think about the frozen ready-to-go machine behind the bar).
Microsoft’s Power BI — currently free for single-computer use (which doesn’t allow for as much sharing with others) — is built on Power Query and was created to help users with non-technical backgrounds create dashboards. Dashboards can be used for real-time insights or exploratory data analysis in a visual setting. Graphs and visualizations created through dashboarding give users a ubiquitous way to view their data. They can hone the user’s attention to focus on the important data or unusual variances. Dashboards integrated through Power BI offer drill-down capabilities to pull the ingredients apart and find the answer to “Why?” These dashboards also have the ability for the views to be adjusted at the click of a button. You can change the chart type, the data being compared, or add a dimension to the visualization on demand.
Remember, there are many tools to accomplish this level of data blending — and one may be better than another depending on your need. Many data-adept managers prefer to use Tableau Prep Builder in conjunction with Tableau for their dashboarding needs. Open-source programming languages such as R and Python can provide the most flexibility in dealing with data as new packages are being added by the minute, although they may require a more advanced skill set. Those who want to leverage “big data” may need a relational data warehouse hosted by Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.
Regardless of the tool used, rest assured your data — no matter the source — can be harnessed and put to work for you. Doing so will help you create massive advantages economically and competitively. Gone are the monthly reports on seven different spreadsheets for you to try to analyze and correlate. You can now access real-time insights and actionable knowledge at the click of a button that use all of your data sources.
Let’s return to the example of a retail store using two separate sales systems for their in-store sales and online sales. After using the blending tools discussed above, the sales manager can now see all sales and costs of sales in one place. That’s not all though.
They can blend in other data sources that, at first glance, have nothing to do with the brick and mortar or online sales. For some examples, they can correlate weekend sales to the number of interactions with the store’s social media posts during the prior week. Or, they can mix in inventory data to keep information about re-order points or slow-moving inventory. They can bring in credit card information and start to get a better idea of the demographics of their consumers. They can review trends for social media or review site mentions, including most used words and positive or negative tones.
All of this can be in one handy place, ready to be reviewed at 8 a.m., 11 p.m. or at noon – really any time or day of the week!
About Ericksen Krentel
Ericksen Krentel CPAs and Consultants, founded in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1960 with offices in New Orleans and Mandeville, believes that serving as the clients’ most trusted adviser is grounded in going beyond the numbers.
That includes helping clients achieve their business and personal financial goals by providing innovative and exceptional services in the following areas: audit and assurance services, tax compliance and planning, outsourced CFO services and business valuations for a variety of industries; employee benefit plan audits; fraud and forensic accounting; business planning; IT consulting; loss calculations; and estate planning.
Learn more at www.ericksenkrentel.com.