Why Try to Fit a Square Peg into a Round Hole?

The last few weeks I’ve attended and presented at several industry conferences, so have had the opportunity to speak to many industry folks about the daily issues and challenges they face visualizing their key insights.

One evident frustration is the failing of current online dashboard tools to work for market research quickly and fuss-free – not just from a data perceptive, but also the way the industry works. Many I spoke with are using big name business intelligence (BI) dashboard providers (rather disparagingly) and then proceeded to remonstrate about the amount of time they had to dedicate to learning and building dashboards. So why are we as an industry trying to fit our data (the square peg) into BI tools which aren’t equipped to handle it (the round hole)?

As an industry, there is a growing need to provide clients with online access to their reports, but still maintaining the status quo of ‘offline reports’ such as PowerPoint.  Therefore, the industry has had to adopt a series of tools, covering both worlds, which aren’t really fit for purpose.  Through my own personal experience, I have had make do with software that so often falls short, and there are several key areas which always frustrated me with the current batch of tools out there:

1)    The data handling process

2)    MR ‘unique’ visualizations

3)    Integrating with other reporting tools

4)    The way the industry works in general

In terms of the data handling process, through years of building my own dashboards, I had to perform lots of macros and VBA in order to get my data ‘dashboard ready’. This process was extremely time-consuming, particularly when different table layouts were provided.  One size (or should it be one macro) doesn’t fit all!

I remember reading a document supplied by a BI provider which was a guide to getting your data ‘BI ready’ and it was 30 plus pages long!  Whatever type of data was imported, it all had to look the same to work in the BI world, a database type data format.  I remember countless Google searches trying to find out how to perform a certain task within a macro.  All this time added to the project build and contributed to the likelihood of data errors.

Getting the data 'dashboard ready'

Getting the data ‘dashboard ready’.

Once you’ve got the data ‘dashboard ready’, the next challenge is to visualize it!  Market research has its own, unique style of visualization that the BI world does not use; Indicating key data points like significance, identifying low bases, netting and multi-responses adding up to over 100%.  These are just a few unique characteristics which ‘traditional’ BI tools do not handle well, and many other MR tools do not adequately address. As researchers, we understand these characteristics but translating them into a visual form on a dashboard usually requires the placement of arrows, letters, and asterisks.  Current dashboard tools can often display these, but they need to be coded in as a separate line, created through complex scripting, or a second chart overlaid to identify these differences. Essentially, it’s not easy to do what is a daily charting task for a researcher.

As an industry we heavily rely on PowerPoint as a delivery format; testament is that our own report automation solutions are busier than ever. When it comes to integrating the online dashboard world with the offline PowerPoint world, no tool has managed to successfully marry those solutions. Current dashboard tools have completely ignored the fact that researchers often want a PowerPoint export to take the dashboard off-line.  The tools that do allow some sort of export only produce a screenshot image of the dashboard, which means you can’t do anything with it, apart from just paste it into a PowerPoint slide.

Lastly, the way that our industry works, particularly around the issue of price points and allocation of budget, means current dashboard tools are too expensive. They also require a large amount of upfront investment in not only money but time – in order to get these tools fully utilized within an organization. They also adopt complicated pricing structures – you have to buy designer licenses, editor licenses, viewer licenses.  You can easily be spending tens of thousands of dollars before you’ve even started building a dashboard.

Within our industry, the purchase of software tends to sit within the IT department budget and getting them to release funds (and also then internally cross-charge the team for support) often makes it an uphill task before even learning the tool! Current dashboard platform providers often don’t seem to understand our industry – charging for viewer licenses up front, which a client may never actually use, with the extra expense hitting project margins.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel – in the form of Iris, our new market research dashboard platform, created in partnership with our friends at Askia. Both companies have a deep understanding of the industry -how it works, how you report and handle data.

Iris is built with the market research industry as its primary users, therefore features such as native visualization of significance and low base indication are built into its toolkit, allowing you to create dashboards with ease.

There will be native import from and export to PowerPoint, meaning you can work in a familiar environment – no longer with dashboards confined to screenshots, as Iris exports will be native PowerPoint charts. This allows you the ability to work with both tools in tandem.  It also saves you time by auto-producing PowerPoint decks to account for each audience break within a dashboard.

In regards to the pricing barriers, Iris will be priced on a per dashboard basis with no additional costs for viewers and designers – if you want one dashboard, you pay for one dashboard, if you want ten, then you pay for ten. The lower entry level means it can fall within a project budget, rather than an IT one – and also it means that you can ‘try’ online dashboards for a smaller entry level and with less risk. All of these advantages over the current dashboard tools in the marketplace, give Iris a real point of difference for the industry – I’d be more than happy to show you the tool in more detail, just get in touch!

If you would like to talk with Russ about any charting, reporting or data visualization project you have, his email is r.budden@e-tabs.com. Or you can fill out the form below.

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