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Why Is Data So Important?
Almost everything we do these days happens on a computer. It happens within software. And that means it happens in bite size chunks of information, which are organized, categorized, and saved in digital form. All that information, from financial transactions to inventory lists, to high school grades, is data. It may not seem very valuable when you see it all at once, but a computer knows how to make sense of it and it can sift through it, searching for patterns that can help you work better, faster, and smarter.
The biggest, most successful businesses on the planet are all built around data. Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others, collect massive amounts of data, both on their customers and their own internal operations, and it all helps fuel further growth. Not everyone can collect and process data on the scale of these global giants, but that doesn’t mean you should shy away from the idea. You are already in possession of a great deal of data and we think you should start taking the first steps toward using it to empower your future.
The Power of Dashboards
When we say “dashboard,” the first thing that comes to mind is probably your car. And that’s perfect because a car dashboard is an organized display of data. That data just happens to be about the way your car is running. Most importantly, a car dashboard comes with labels to help you understand what’s good and what’s bad. Showing you RPMs doesn’t help unless you know that 3,500 is good and 9,000 is bad so they make sure to color code the indicator red when you’re in danger.
In a similar vein, there are also business and education dashboards. Like car dashboards, they are organized displays of data about the way your business or school is running. They can be customized to meet your needs and display the information that is important to you. It might be Sales Volume, Profit Margin, Test Scores, or anything else you monitor and track over time. You wouldn’t drive a car without real time information about the car’s performance. If you have access to real-time data about the way your organization is running, we should find a way to keep an eye on that too.
Power BI: Microsoft’s Business Intelligence Software
To make the most of your data, you need some software. A tool to receive the raw data, interpret it all, and display the human-friendly performance dashboard. Microsoft has an excellent tool for this called Power BI. One of the biggest selling points is that the base version of the software is free. That makes it an excellent choice for schools, non-profits, or small businesses. And the Pro version is just a few dollars per month.
Another amazing aspect of Power BI is that it seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Office 365 products which you likely already use. You can easily import information from Excel, SharePoint, Teams, and other popular applications. In our experience, when its easy to use software, you’re much more likely to actually do so.
Now let’s look at a couple practical examples of Dashboards built using Power BI so you can really understand what we’re talking about.
A great example of a data-driven environment is healthcare. There are so many systems and processes to keep track of. Having a dashboard you can glance at and understand the state of the clinic, office, or hospital can save a tremendous amount of time and make a challenging more manageable. In this example, you can see that they’re monitoring several different things on the same screen, including COVID tests, Bed Availability, and Equipment inventory. All of these are critical to managing resources and care, but tough to keep track of on paper and impossible to deal with in your head.
A special item in the lower left corner showcases one of the most exciting things data can bring to bear: predictive analytics. Day after day, the system tracks the number of patients and looks for patters based on day of the week, time, and other factors. Over time, it can start making intelligent predictions to help you anticipate increases or decreases in volume. Imagine getting a data-based prediction about patient volume and having the time to adjust the staffing schedule and supply closets to meet the need. That’s the power of data.
A second excellent use case for data analytics is education. Schools are full of opportunities to collect and use valuable data. Everything from attendance and class size to test scores and behavior marks is worth tracking and analyzing. In decades past, when planning curriculum changes or reviewing staffing quality, you only have teacher notes, anecdotes, and memory to rely on. In the age of School Information Systems, you have all the information documented. But without the software to sift through all that information, it will take a tremendous amount of time to organize it and compare it from classroom to classroom and from year to year. A properly utilized data analytics platform like Power BI can digest thousands of test scores across hundreds of students and provide a clear picture of their status and progress.
In the example above, we see a dashboard that tracks reading test scores. Each chart is helpful, but when you see them all next to each other you start to see a clear picture. Something is going wrong in first grade. In Kindergarten, half the students are on track and half are behind. But just one year later, the vast majority have fallen behind. In subsequent years many students start catching up, but your goal as an educator is to keep everyone on the right track every year. A dashboard like this makes it easier to identify the gap which makes it easier to tackle the problem.
Getting Started With Data Analytics
Wading into the waters of data analytics and dashboards can seem a little overwhelming, but the team here at Macro Connect has years of experience helping business and schools just like yours handle everything from first steps to enterprise-level systems analysis.
One of the very first steps we recommend is a free visioning meeting. There we can learn more about your daily operations and the kind of data you have access to as well as the kind of insights and dashboard displays that can help you advance your mission and goals. Once we’re all on the same page, we can help you implement the visualizations and go live so that you can start leveraging the power of data. Reach out today to schedule your own Vision meeting!