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Dashboards alone are not the solution to harnessing Big Data

by Adam Froman.

2012 has been an exciting year at AskingCanadians. Aside from the continued double-digit growth, our R&D activities are continuing to fuel our future service offerings.

Late last year when we were reviewing our R&D agenda, we originally identified the development of a technology to integrate structured and unstructured data into one consolidated view as our research priority.

Much to our relief, we discovered technologies such as Tableau and Clarabridge, which removed the need for us to focus on building a new platform. This allowed us to focus on the real research challenge we had identified.

Dashboard technologies are primarily focused on providing a consolidated snapshot of various data inputs, but that is really just the first step in figuring out how to actually harness Big Data. And, many organizations stop there. They believe that looking at a snapshot view of their data inputs will help them derive actionable insights or make more informed decisions. This is akin to how I view dashboards like Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is a very powerful dashboard that allows you to see the traffic to any web property you choose to monitor. I am always using Google Analytics to monitor the performance of websites and to measure it against some of our Key Performance Indicators. However, when it really comes down to it, Google Analytics, with all its powerful displays and functionality, overwhelms me with a lot of useless information.

Now, imagine you are a business decision maker who, unlike myself, does not have a technical or analytic background, and you log into a dashboard that is simply a consolidation of data inputs. Very overwhelming!!

The real opportunity for harnessing the power of Big Data is to first understand the kind of information the decision maker needs to help them make better decisions. Next, it is necessary to understand how that data should be correlated or synthesized with other data so that they can quickly derive the insights they need. Finally, you have to consider how to visualize the dashboard to present the data in a manner that is relevant to the decision maker.

In the end, the power of near-real time data being presented in a dashboard for a decision maker to log into is an exciting and compelling proposition. But if it overwhelms the decision maker, or is irrelevant, then the dashboard will not be used and the benefit of harnessing Big Data will be lost.