There’s a great scene in last year’s Oscar-nominated Hidden Figures where NASA “computer” Katherine Johnson begs to be allowed into the secretive daily briefings planning the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in a few weeks’ time.
“The data changes so fast. The capsule changes. The weight and the landing zone — they’re all changing, every day! I do my work, you attend these briefings, I have to start over,” she says. “I cannot do my job effectively if I do not have all of the data and all of the information as soon as it’s available.”
Those of us that rely on business critical data analytics and insights are only too familiar with this frustration. You have a crucial business question that needs answers, but by the time you’ve discussed the parameters with IT, they’ve developed the right algorithm to run the query, you’ve processed the data, performed the calculations, and structured it all in the format of an easy-to-understand dashboard… the situation on the ground has already changed and your hard work is essentially useless.
The old ways of doing things — be it through bulky Excel spreadsheets or BI systems that funnel through IT with lead times of several weeks — no longer cut it. It’s vital that you have access to the latest data when you need it and that you can conduct analytics on this information in near- to real-time. Without this, delays and mistakes can quickly become very expensive.
In other words, you need real-time analytics for big data and real-time data visualization — and you need it now.
If you’re a huge retailer with an international presence, you’re likely to have to handle multiple complex supply chains, oversee the logistics of importing and shipping all over the world, create accurate demand predictions, and respond fast if a certain item oversells or undersells against expectation.
Get it wrong and you’re stuck with the wrong products on the shelves, damaging sales while increasing your stock warehousing costs and incurring steep fees for extra product runs and last minute shipping.
What’s more, it’s probable that each department in your company produces its own types of reports in order to tackle their most pressing problems — often using slightly different sources of data. That can lead to retail companies producing thousands of reports a month, and if these use incompatible methodologies and data sources, they may well be conflicting, too.
Wading through all this information to try and make sense of what’s really happening in your company and what to expect going forward can be a total nightmare for retailers, and by the time you’ve done so, you’re likely to be retroactively fixing problems instead of planning effectively and efficiently for the coming months. In this case, having real-time analysis would prove to be a serious game changer in slashing overheads and maximizing profits.
When data analytics for customers is a core part of your offering, having the ability to turn this around at lightning speed is core to your credibility.
When it comes to online marketing, agencies need to be able to show clients how their efforts are doing, demonstrating return on investment (ROI) on demand. If a customer calls you up and asks, for example, for advice on where to assign their next batch of marketing budget for the best possible results based on their performance over the previous quarter, you don’t want to have to reply that you’ll let them know in three weeks’ time. They need those insights now — and you need a way to provide them.
What’s more, if you’re working in this field, you not only need to be able to draw out insights rapidly for yourself, customizing reports and manipulating the data on the fly — you need to be able to swiftly build your own beautiful, engaging, customer-facing dashboards to present this information in the best possible way, too.
Of course, this isn’t always the easiest thing to do quickly when you’re working with real-time analytics for multiple data sources, which need to be harmonized ready for analysis, but getting a powerful enough system in place to help you will make an enormous difference.
Just take it from Act-On, a marketing automation company that managed to harmonize 17 conflicting data sources, produce reports that were ten times more accurate and grow their business fivefold in the space of just two months by switching to a more effective, unifying BI system for real-time data analytics.
When Real-Time Analytics Means Life or Death
Having the right insights at your fingertips is critical to the health of any organization, but when it comes to actual healthcare, the implications are even more serious.
Tracking the spread of disease, identifying patterns in adverse reactions to treatment, calculating bed occupancy, and making sure you have enough doctors and nurses on shift are vital issues affecting the quality of care that patients receive and, in extreme cases, a few days’ delay in getting that information can mean the difference between treating or preventing life-threatening conditions in time or identifying complications before it’s too late.
Even better, deploying fast, effective BI in healthcare can help hospitals and clinics identify things like factors increasing a patient’s chances of readmission, helping them to create better post-treatment care initiatives and proactively reduce these readmission rates. It can also help to reveal where bottlenecks and backlogs form during appointment booking, in onboarding patients, dealing with paperwork, or transferring sensitive data between departments and providers — all of which amounts to better, more responsive, higher-quality healthcare.
Getting these insights in real-time, though, is crucial. It’s all very well figuring out where things went wrong six months ago, but if you can’t spot patterns and problems forming on the horizon, you can’t reallocate resources or take proactive, preventative measures to avoid them forming again. When you’re dealing with something as serious as healthcare, getting speedy analytics and insights isn’t a luxury; it should be a central part of your entire strategy.
How to Get Real-Time Analytics
So that’s why you need real-time analytics. But more importantly, where should you get it from — and how do you go about deploying this in your organization?
The major barrier to real-time analytics is relying primarily on your IT department for report generation. IT has a lot to worry about, so adding to their workload with each request for a new query means your data analytics will have to sit in a queue until they can get around to it while manually setting up a system to process your results can take weeks.
Instead, you need BI that is genuinely self-service so that business users can set up reports, queries, and dashboards as and when they need them to answer their most pressing questions. This should be powerful enough to tap into any data source and to bring this together into a single source of truth that continually refreshes with the latest data and lets you treat this as one, fully compatible data store.
Once you have a BI platform like that in place, you’re ready to run the real-time analytics that will take your business or organization to the next level of, productivity, profitability, and performance.