Empowerment at a Glance

In our last Utility blog, we looked at how data quality impacts the Utility process and business. Now that we have invested in a data quality process, it is time to start realizing that commitment and start utilizing that data to provide real-time insight to your decision makers.

We will take a look at some design does and don’ts for your dashboard and also some examples of the metrics you may want to consider.

What is a dashboard and why do you even need a one?

A dashboard is an interactive reporting tool that takes raw data and displays it through defined metrics in a compelling form. A dashboard should support guide a user through the analytical process and help focus thought processes and drive strategic thinking by providing the information tailored to the person viewing it.

There are three types of dashboard and which ones you choose is very much dependent on what you are trying to monitor and measure.

Strategic Dashboards – an aggregated view of the performance of the company providing just enough depth to provide insight, but not so much detail that you get bogged down in the detail. A strategic dashboard is a tool for executives and managers to view the health of the organization and identify areas of improvement and innovation and track how whether current strategic initiatives are being successfully executed.

Analytical Dashboards – allow the user to explore the data and look at trends and compare variables to investigate why things are happening and guide the user through their decision process. For example, you may want to compare two sites performance selecting different variables to try and identify why one operates at a higher level.

Operational Dashboards – are detailed views on real-time (or near real-time) data, providing analysis into what is happening now. They are designed to clearly communicate any anomalies so that the user can take action if required. Operational dashboards are aimed at the subject matter expert and meant to communicate detailed data for monitoring and analysis.

Clearly, having dashboards throughout various levels of the organization provides strategic insights through to operational issues and comparisons. Without dashboards, the process to collect and organize the data and present it in a visually compelling, meaningful way in a timeframe that makes the data useful, is impractical and time-consuming.

The key to a good design

So, we have decided we need a dashboard, now let’s look at some simple pointers to designing one that will keep the users engaged and provide them with the information they need.

Less is definitely more. You don’t need to cram everything onto one screen. Data should be clearly identifiable and relatable to its intended audience. The data needs to be clearly stated and leave no room for interpretation.

Communicates a story. You don’t want the user confused at what they are looking at. Make sure the data displayed tells the user what they need to know and can lead them through the data to answer their analysis questions. Consider what they need to know when planning the display options.

Use the right visualizations. Choosing the right visualization to display the data is essential for quick communication and understanding.

Make the Data Relevant. Make sure the metrics shown are relevant to the user and the level of analysis that they required. Make sure the metrics provide actionable information. There is no need for the executive level to drill down to detailed data so don’t make it an option, whereas if you are looking at day to day operations, you do need that level of detail, but don’t need to be distracted by the consolidated company view. Also, think about how often data needs to be refreshed. Operational dashboards should be refreshed often, but the executive level will be looking more at trends and so they don’t need to refresh as much.

Speed and Display. If data is refreshed in real-time or updated less frequently, you don’t want to be waiting for it to load. Make sure the information is delivered quickly. How will the data be viewed? Consider what type of device the dashboard will be viewed on when designing.

Identify what you want to analyze

What problems need to be solved? What questions need to be asked? You need to ensure that metrics are linked to strategy and also that you are measuring and reporting with the goal of improving your company.

Here are some examples of areas that you can look at for creating your dashboards.

Customer Look at a measure such as billing accuracy, number of complaints, time to resolve a complaint, water outage time, delinquency rate. Track how keeping an accurate view of the customer through the merging of disparate systems and by implementing a data quality strategy can help you have a better view of the customer and help you serve them better.

Financial Providing KPI reporting on the financial aspect of the organization can provide quick insights to the executive level dashboard. Looking at a few examples: gross revenue, net revenue, costs, operating cash flow, current account receivables, current accounts payable. 

Infrastructure Monitoring Aging infrastructure places heavy costs on the utility business. Look at the cost of planned versus emergency maintenance. The cost to fix leaks versus fixing breaks. The cost of the service and the lost revenue if that service is unable.

Operations Looking at the day to day running of the organization and making adjustments based on the real-time data presented to the subject matter experts, for example, the cost to complete a job, time to complete, crew productivity.

Regulation Because utilities are expected to conduct transparent operations and comply with stringent regulations, thorough reporting in areas such as health and safety issues, prevention and safe disposal of waste, environmental risk management during construction and operations, disposal of waste, drinking water quality and reductions in the number of complaints to regulatory body are a must to comply.

Conclusion

Seeing the value of a series of dashboards within your organization is quickly realized through increased decision making, by providing a visually engaging and easily digestible view on your business. The user is guided through the decision-making process and therefore dashboards reduce in time to analyze results and avoiding unnecessary gathering and processing of data in static reports. Dashboards specific to the job and user in question are available instantly, showing only the data needed and can be used with complete confidence as all the business rules and regulation information is managed centrally removing the risk of errors.   Look out for our next Utilities blog – Predictive Analysis.

If this blog didn’t quite answer your question or you have other Business Intelligence questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.

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