23 JUN, 2014
Majority of my work at tavisca revolves around developing travel back-office software solutions. One challenge that we always look forward to solving is that of data representation for travel agencies or for that matter any business. Providing enough visibility of data to all roles ranging from business owners to agents, to analyze market trends has always been our top priority.
Today, when data is pouring from every nook and corner, the data itself isn’t the problem anymore. The problem lies in the representation and the insight that it provides. Designing & presenting business information in such a way where a glance at your system dashboard can set the direction of your day is what we aim to achieve.
To elaborate further, I will play with some data and show how simple numbers seen by an agent on a dashboard can start making sense.
Let’s talk about numbers. Consider we build a widget to be placed on the dashboard for you to have a daily overview of bookings.
The widget reads
The very basic question that pops into everyone’s head is what does 42 represent? Is it the number of mangoes or the days remaining for your birthday?
So let’s modify it a bit by adding context to the number.
And your question gets immediately answered; 42 aren’t mangoes or days remaining for your birthday, these are the number of reservations. Happy and satisfied, or still have queries?
Obviously, ‘42 reservations’ isn’t complete or a potent piece of information till we associate it with a time range/period for which it holds true, it could be for a year, a month, a day or an hour.
So let’s update it further, by adding a time attribute to the number and the context (reservation).
Now you get a cleaner picture, which says ‘42 reservations made on 5th February 2014’, but we continue asking the same questions again, is the information enough? Are you able to derive meaningful insights from this information?
The answers might swing a bit this time, from a definite ‘NO’ when we started, to a ‘MAY BE’ or in some cases even ‘YES’, because the current stats look pretty comprehensive.
At this point, let’s modify the questions a bit, how do you feel after reading these numbers? I mean are you happy, sad or angry for whatever reason it may be? The basic idea being, when you see these numbers does it provide you a snapshot of what’s going on in your business? Now tell me if, ‘42 reservations made on 5th February 2014’ is comprehensive enough to provide you with an insight? The answer now will lean towards ‘NO.’ If you are not a seasoned person used to managing a travel business and using travel software regularly, these stats might not provide you with enough insight about your business.
Let’s go a step further by adding a comparative view on top of what we already see.
The addition of a comparative view, provides a new dimension to our data, not only can you now view the numbers but you can also weigh them with performance of the previous day, the same day last year or any other day that you pick. Depending upon the season and other business specifics, the comparison is your choice, adding a date picker there would further enhance its utility as you can now decide what you need to compare the data with.
The emotions (happy, sad or angry) that I was previously referring to can now be analyzed better, increased bookings means more revenues, a thought that will definitely cheer up your day.
Is this information comprehensive enough for you yet? The number of times the answer is a definitive ‘YES’ might shoot up now because ’42 reservations made today which is ‘4’ more than the ‘38’ made yesterday’ is a good enough insight.
Let me extend the question a bit further, what actions does this information allow you to take? A stat/ number, that cannot initiate actions and is merely static information, is of no use. It is just like the painting hanging on the wall.
So let’s analyze, the information we see clearly indicates an increase in bookings. We can now celebrate, or we can push for more bookings, as we are yet not there. Sadly enough, you can’t (or you rather won’t) decide on any of the above actions depending upon what information you have till now. As a business owner you know that mere numbers are illusions, it’s the trends or the aggregates of which the numbers are a part of, that matters in the real world. This is what the industry calls as the ‘bigger picture.’
Finally, we may update our widget further so that it can start helping you make decisions by adding an aggregator and now the widget looks like this:
We stand here, “42 reservations today that is 4 more than yesterday, but still 12.5% less on a monthly average” this information now can help you make some decisions or at least identify areas that need your immediate attention. Obviously you can tweak what you want to see with what you might want to compare.
The idea here is that, whenever we design, no matter how small a component, it shall empower the user enough to be able to give directions to actions. You can have a great data analysis system at the back, but it’s the representation of this data that carries the actual power.
This is not the only/ good / best practice to achieve what we discussed. The representation can change depending on specific business requirements; the point here is just keep on asking the right questions, and you will see wonders coming up.
Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed it.
For any queries please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
N.B: This post has been written by Tushar Maini. Tushar serves as Sr. Developer at tavisca.