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Ted Cuzzillo's BI

Ted Cuzzillo

Basking in a dashboard's warm glow

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When some people look at dashboards, they want to see patterns but not reasons. "They don't want to read the fine print," said one attendee in Lyndsay Wise's dashboards seminar at Enterprise Data World in San Francisco yesterday. That's what he learned from one data-quality project for a human resources department.

Lyndsay stimulated some of the best discussion I've heard on the human side of dashboard projects. Nowhere else has any attendee been frank enough to call drill-down "the fine print" — the suggestion that the "why?" is just noise. He escaped before I could corner him to inquire. Really, I only wanted to know more.

Were those know-nothing users victims of abusive parents or bad teachers? I've worked with such users. I trust them, I like them, and most businesses couldn't do without them. But I still wonder about them, as they wonder about me.

There's too much data, we know that. Tom Davenport ponders the overwhelmingness of it all today. The Economist reported on it last month, and Neil Raden wrote about it 15 years ago. The casual users feel it more and more.

For the overwhelmed, there's the palliative dashboard. It works the way Mozart does for who can't tell Mozart from Schmozart: knowing it's Mozart makes them feel good.

One person in the audience told about a pre-dashboard-era CEO who prided himself on having no high school degree. He wanted yesterday's sales figures on his desk at 8 a.m. every day. What decisions did he make based on that data? None, the eventually discovered reason was that it just made him feel good. Even without his reading glasses on, the patterns on the paper must have looked nice against the wood grain on his desk.

Attention dashboard makers: mind the furniture.

In this blog, freelance writer and analyst Ted Cuzzillo considers the far end of business intelligence, where technology meets the irregular human profile. With original reporting and analysis, he writes about data analysis and the analysts themselves, as well as a range of other concerns such as perceptions, terminology and personalities.

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