Moving Smoothly from Paper and Excel to Real-Time Dashboards – the Small Steps Approach
We all want to work more efficiently – to automate non-value add activities like organising data and creating reports. That will free us up to focus on improving our products and services.
But we know that getting to that level of efficiency and end-to-end visibility is a significant undertaking. There have been big wins in areas like manufacturing, training and document control. But there are also gaps which are bridged by emails and spreadsheets. Connecting those gaps has come more into focus as the pace of work and complexity of data continues to accelerate.
Dataworks experience as a developer of custom solutions for MedTech and Pharma organisations has shown us that Digital Transformation isn’t necessarily a technical issue. Process improvements are often achieved at the end of a long chain of effort – compliance, budget, the time to take on a project and the risk that there will be issues.
A Customer Perspective
Our Sales & Marketing manager, Michelle Devereux surveyed some of our customers recently to learn more about what they see as the opportunities in digital transformation. We pulled out some of the responses and you’ll probably recognise some of the pain.
“The level of human effort required to sustain deciphering information from the complex systems and data we work with is huge. If we don’t adopt digital technology, we will become unsustainable from a cost perspective. “
“Site wide metrics and real-time dashboards would be a real advantage”
“We have many systems and yet still rely heavily on paper and excel – so the opportunity to streamline and connect is significant “
The responses confirmed to us that Digital Transformation was a priority but they also showed that “data” was seen as the big win. The ability to extract information from data efficiently and share it easily could be transformative.
However, reaching that goal was generally seen as a big step that would require a commitment of resources. One respondent replied:
“There is a lot technology could do for us but our bottleneck at the moment is trying to free people up to look at areas that could be improved.”
The Small Steps Approach
However, we believe that resources don’t have to be a major sticking point. New technologies and specifically low code/no code frameworks open the option of making this transition in stages and controlling it in-house. This has two advantages. Firstly, it doesn’t “take up” time in large blocks. Secondly, it gives time and space for end users to trial the solutions and make any necessary corrections.
Every situation is unique but here is one potential pathway that empowers an organization or group to move step-by-step from Excel spreadsheets to real-time dashboards.
Step 1: Get Started with Visualisations
Data visualisations highlight trends, problems and opportunities. They allow for better and faster decision making. They also give more people a clear handle on the state of play.
A very simple way to start exploring the value of visualisations in your group or department is to simply start with an Excel sheet or an SAP extract that you use regularly.
- Download the free Power BI desktop application. Set the data source to your Excel sheet. Find the visualisations that succinctly express the story within your data. This can be an iterative process that is refined with time and user input. This step requires no change to any existing processes or procedures. The data continues to be maintained in the Excel sheet or database.
- Once the core team is happy that the visualisations are clear and impactful, upgrade to licensed Power BI and share the dashboards and reports with other colleagues.
Step 2: Automate Data Processing
In Step 1, you created visualizations based on a single data source such an Excel spreadsheet. Creating the dataset may have required some manual intervention – such as merging information from two separate sheets. The next step is to start automating any manual data processing. Power Query provides a really robust, user friendly alternative to Excel lookups or VBA code. A wide range of data transformations can be specified entirely through its intuitive, graphical interface.
Further value could be added by comparing the data with other data sources. For example, compare inventory data with scheduled usage to highlight any bottlenecks.
Power Query is integrated with both Excel and Power BI. That means that any transforms can be moved seamlessly between Power BI and Power Query.
Step 3: Switch to Real-Time Data
At some point, your team may be ready to cut out Excel altogether and get data directly from the source. In effect you will be changing your data source settings in Power BI. Instead of linking to an Excel spreadsheet, simply provide the login details for an SQL Server or other data source and apply the transforms you’ve already defined.
This incremental process won’t suit all situations or groups. In some cases, the optimum approach may be to go for a faster transition. However, a step by step can be the right approach for the right project. Like the Navy Seal motto goes, “slow is smooth …. smooth is fast”.
If you are looking to utilise technology to optimise and maximise your organisations’ competitiveness and performance or would like to discuss how we can use our experience and expertise to deliver real benefits to your business, please Contact Us today or call us on 051 878555.
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