The Right Use for Real Time Data
Vendors commonly pitch the need for “real-time” data and insights, without due consideration for the process, tools and support needed to act upon it. So when is real-time an advantage for an organization, and when does it serve as a distraction? And how should analysts respond to requests for real-time data and dashboards?
There are two main considerations in deciding when real-time data is of benefit to your organization.
1. The cadence at which you make changes
The frequency with which you look at data should depend on your organization’s ability to act upon it. (Keep in mind – this may differ across departments!)
For example, let’s say your website release schedule is every two weeks. If, no matter what your real-time data reveals, you can’t push out changes any faster than two weeks, then real-time data is likely to distract the organization.
Let’s say real-time data revealed an alarming downward trend. The organization is suddenly up in arms… but can’t fix it for another two weeks. And then… it rights itself naturally. It was a temporary blip. No action was taken, but the panic likely sidetracked strategic plans. In this case, real-time served as a distraction, not an asset.
However, your social media team may post content in the morning, and re-post in the afternoon. Since they are in a position to act quickly, and real-time data may impact their subsequent posts, it may provide a business advantage for that team.
When deciding whether real-time data is appropriate, discuss with stakeholders what changes would be made in response to observed shifts in the data, how quickly those changes could be made, and what infrastructures exists to make the changes.
2. The technology you have in place to leverage it
Businesses seldom have the human resources needed to act upon trends in real-time data. However, perhaps you have technologies in place to act quickly. Common examples include real-time optimization of advertising, testing and optimization of article headlines, triggered marketing messages (for example, shopping cart abandonment) and on-site (within-visit) personalization of content.
If you have technology in place that will actually leverage the real-time data, it will absolutely provide your organization an advantage. Technology can spot real-time trends and make tweaks far more quickly than a human being can, and can be a great use of real-time information.
But if you have no such technology in place, and real-time is only so executives can see “how many people are checking out right now”, this is unlikely to prove successful for the business, and will draw resources away from making more valuable use of your full data set.
Consider specific, appropriate use cases
Real-time data is not an “all” or “nothing.” There may be specific instances where it will be advantageous for your organization, even if it’s not appropriate for all uses.
A QA or Troubleshooting Report (Otherwise known as the “Is the sky falling?!” report) can be an excellent use of real-time data. Such a report should look for site outages or issues, or breaks in analytics tracking, to allow quick detection and fixes of major problems. This may allow you to spot errors far sooner than during monthly reporting.
The real-time data can also inform automated alerts, to ensure you are notified of alarming shifts as soon as possible.
When receiving a request for “more real-time” data, dashboards or analysis, be sure to define with stakeholders how they define “real-time.”
Real-time data can be defined as data appearing in your analytics tool within 1 minute of the event taking place. Vendors may consider within 15 minutes to be “real-time.” However, your business users may request “real-time” when all they really mean is “including today’s partial data.”
It’s also possible your stakeholders are looking for increased granularity of the data, rather than specifically real-time information. For example, perhaps the dashboards currently available to them are at a daily level, when they need access to hourly information for an upcoming launch.
Before you go down the rabbit hole of explaining where real-time is, and is not, valuable, make sure that you understand exactly the data they are looking for, as “real time” may not mean the same thing to them as it does to you.