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Simple is the New Effective: 5 Ways Manufacturers Can Make Data Reports Actionable

Manufacturers seeking to modernize and digitize their operations face the challenge of effectively integrating and sharing production performance information. Many try a one-size-fits-all approach, using dashboards and reports to meet the needs of the shop floor through C-Suite. These often turn out overly complex and don’t convey the information in a digestible visual, leading to low adoption.

Here are five ways manufacturers can make reports meaningful, easy to understand, and actionable.

1. Consider your audience

One of the first questions you should answer when creating a dashboard or report is: “Who is my audience?” The audience is the person or people who will be consuming the data you present. The audience and the person requesting the information are not always the same person. When choosing visuals to relay information, it is important to keep the audience’s perspective in the forefront of your mind. Reports are created for people with diverse backgrounds and experience levels. In a manufacturing plant, something produced for engineers to determine functionality will have a greater level of complexity than one provided to the operators. A report for executives will be at a much higher level than one for the engineers and operators. All these various displays will tell a different story with the data, which in turn means they will likely use different visuals. Trying to use the same visuals to be consistent can end up hurting more than helping.

Recommendation: Create the presentation layer specific to your audience.

2. Keep the user environment in mind

Your team could be far from monitors and need large graphics. How are the lighting conditions? Are they working in the field outdoors? What kind of screens are they viewing them on – TVs, monitors, tablets? They may also have other screens competing for attention, and different time periods where they must react to a condition.

Recommendation: Create visuals that are simple & efficient in their presentation to be consumed quickly, and have a clear call to action.

3. Color Keeps it Clear

Using color can quickly convey information to the viewer. Red can be bad or tell someone to stop, yellow can signal a warning or say that things are satisfactory, and green can mean go or good. Putting a color to numerical displays helps give visual context. Having a busy, detailed chart of data with limits, past results, and predictive analysis won’t help an operator quickly determine if a machine is functioning properly. Alternatively, numbers complemented with red, yellow, or green in the background could be exactly what they need to adjust and perform their job in a timely matter. In the event that your viewers have one or more types of color blindness, you can modify the visual to use different line thicknesses to indicate the color boundaries.

Recommendation: use color and other visual indicators to quickly portray status.

4. Keep it Simple

At its base, a visual is used to relay information to the reader. It should provide context and answers within seconds of being viewed. If you must spend a great deal of time explaining a visual, then that is the very definition of an ineffective visual. The best advice we can give is to keep it as simple as possible.

Try surveying your user base to find the right visuals so that each person can quickly extract meaningful insights. Also, consider customizing the visuals and reports for specific audiences - delivering the same information in ways they can best use it. One way to do that is with visuals your team is already familiar with.

Two examples of simple, familiar visuals that can be very effective are:

-Pie charts: They are simple, easy to understand, and are have been familiar to most since elementary school. Just make sure you don’t have too many categories – no more than 5 – because each category gets too small and difficult to decipher.

-Gauges and dials: They are often overlooked, but think about your car and the gas gauge, temperature gauge, speedometer, and tachometer. In an instant, you can see if you have enough gas to get you to your destination, if your car is overheating, or how fast you’re going. You can quickly tell what’s happening and take the appropriate action. This is another example of when keeping it simple is effective.

5. TMI Overload

Once all the proper visuals are picked out and designed, make sure you don’t overwhelm the user with too many visuals on a single report. When a report contains too much information it gives the user cognitive overload and they are unable to focus on any singular visual and gain limited insight from the report. This will take the individually-effective visuals you created and collectively make them less likely to deliver actionable insights. Another tip is to use the drill-through and filter features to help increase readability by letting the user change what data is displayed without increasing the number of visuals on one page.

To Sum it Up

Remember, the goal of analytics is to give your business the kind of insights that change the way you operate for the better. To make that happen, you need to tell a clear story that considers your audience, how and where they consume it, engages with colors and clarity, and does not overwhelm their senses. Show them great data in a meaningful way, and they will be able to take action.

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