Pretty much every time I do an analytics training I talk about the most ambitious analytics project I have ever taken on.
One day back when I was still with Wells Fargo (circa mid 2008), my boss came into my cube and tossed a book on my desk. “Daniel, take a look at this. I when I come back I want to share with you a project I have in mind.” I knew he was going on a business trip that day and would be back in two days so I had that time to read the book and figure out what he wanted me to do before he got back.
The book was Stephen Few’s Information Dashboard Design and it forever changed my life.
When I saw the book I was immediately enthralled by the charts and graphs, at this point in my career I had built thousands of charts and graphs and data visualizations in excel and was generally considered a master at it. But up until that point I had never heard of the term business dashboard. It was obvious to me that the idea was a user interface to access business data in one view, but I likening it to a car’s dashboard was a brilliant way to make the concept easy to digest.
I spent most of the next two days devouring the book. And I knew what he wanted, some kind of intranet site to display all the different reporting metrics I was generating for the group and mainly diffusing via email.
When my boss got back from his trip, I eagerly anticipated his eventual reappearance in my cube.
Finally after lunch, his admin called me and asked me to meet him in the conference room. On the dry erase board he had sketched out the most ambitious analytics project I had ever dreamed of taken. He didn’t just want a place to post information and reports, he wanted something far cooler.
His requirements included real-time sales data, real-time scrolling exchange rate data, headline news data from various sources and he wanted it to be available on both desktops and on TV screen positioned throughout the floor so everyone can get a pulse of the business at a glance. It was brilliant, but it was also going to be ridiculously hard to do. I mean, he wanted a life feed from CNN. How was I going to get that?
But being the dedicated analyst, the next day I took his vision and created a one page power point mock-up. Once he felt I had the design the way he wanted I started checking around with different resources to see what it would take to pull this off. After several conversations with our project management team.. in-house developers and database owners, I came up with a figure of over $1,000,000. It was going to be a huge six month project to get everything in.
I kicked off the project and started putting together the project team…. and then we had an all team budget meeting. We need to cut some things out of the budget do and when the boss started going around the room and looking at each person , I already knew it… “Daniel, we are going to have to cut your data project”. Inside I cried, but I had been around long enough to know this idea wasn’t dead, it was just going to take a different form.
Two years later, we basically had built the dashboard but it took a lot different form then I had originally put together. We had the reporting metrics on an intranet site, we had an automatic system to feed us real-time FX rates, we were using the Tableau BI tool to develop some awesome data visualizations… about the only thing missing was the live CNN feed.
But boy wouldn’t it have been cool to build that dashboard the way we originally had dreamed it up!