If you’re a fan of Monty Python, you might chuckle at the phrase, “Trouble at mill!” This comes from a sketch where a worker runs into the opulent home of the mill owner to declare that something’s gone wrong at the millworks. It’s a joke about the industrial revolution, but it’s also a great (if unintentional) example of the value of real time business information. See, in the old days, a human being would watch the machines, and if there was a problem, he’d go running to tell the owner—in real time.
Today, things are not so simple. Business operations are widely dispersed. However, with modern technology, it is now possible to have the equivalent of the man screaming “trouble at mill!” even if the mill in question is on another continent. Real time information can improve your awareness of how your business is running.
What Does “Real Time” Mean?
When we talk about real time data, we sometimes mean literally things that happened just now, a millisecond ago. As fast as electrons can move along the wire, you’re in the loop. A lot of the time, though, what we call real time is actually “near real time” data. For example, some investment management sites show stock market data that’s delayed by a few minutes. It’s not instantaneous, but it’s close enough to be considered real time. For our purposes, real time means both instant and delayed (near real time) data.
How You Can Collect, Analyze and Report Real Time Data
Your business is constantly generating data. To make use of it, you need to collect the data and store it in a place where you can analyze it. Then, you need to see the results of the analysis. Thus, real time data is the product of several related processes: data collection, data storage, data analysis and data visualization.
The most useful real time data usually comes from multiple sources all at once, so your collect/store/analyze/visualize process should ideally encompass more than one data stream. To do this, you need a dedicated solution for data analytics. It might include Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to enable data collection from diverse sources. The system might deploy sensors to collect physical data like temperatures and traffic volumes.
You need a data storage capability. Even if your analysis takes a few seconds, you still need a data repository. And then, you need an analytics toolset and data visualization software. Luckily for you, many of these elements already come pre-packaged in Business Intelligence (BI) solutions like Microsoft Power BI.
Real Time Data Visualization Methods
How can you see real time data about your business? Most often, BI tools present dashboards that can contain a number of “widget” components that display data in graphical forms. Some forms of real time data might be represented in bar graphs. Other data is best depicted in pie charts, line graphs, physical maps and so forth.
Examples of Real Time Business Data
There are essentially an infinite number of real time data reporting scenarios. Your company will have its own, unique needs for real time data. For example, imagine that you run a business that provides customer service in the field. You have trucks with technicians running around all over town tending to customers.
How could real time data help you run such a business better, meaning, how could it help you save money, make more money and keep customers happy? A real time map could show you where your trucks are at any given moment. A visual overlay on the map could show which trucks are behind schedule. Using the dashboard, you could see if another truck could perhaps help out. A line graph could tell you how your on-time record is doing, hour by hour, day by day. You might spot a problem from its visual representation that would have bene hard to see in pure numerical data.
Implementing real time data reporting requires some focus and the investment of time. Doing it right means carefully thinking through which real time data points will help your business the most. We have taken many companies through this process. If you want to learn how real time data reporting can make your business more successful, let’s talk.