Opening up and visualising data for our colleagues

There’s a nice saying which goes like this: “You can have data without information, but you cannot have information without data.” I like this saying because aside from making a relatively simple observation, it gives a time series to the constant challenge of ‘turning numbers into insight’. First get the data available and in order, then look for what it’s telling you.

All sounds a bit simple, right? Well no actually. In a large organisation like The Co-operative Food with billions of transactions a year and terabytes of data, just the first step of getting my colleagues the data they need takes quite a bit of thinking. And that’s before we can even consider how best to then use it.

Fortunately we have new access to Microstrategy Visual Insight software here in the Retail BI team. This powerful tool allows us to now run, manipulate and then visualise large, granular datasets at a speed we couldn’t have even imagined a few years ago.

This ease of viewing SKU (Stock Keeping Unit) level data, selected and filtered in almost any way, is something that can be a real challenge to large retailers like ourselves. We can now not only give our colleagues easy access to this data, but can even visualise it for them all using only one SQL query and one window.

Of course all of this requires not only development time and expertise, but also, and possibly more significantly, business processes, education and culture that facilitate open and self-serve access to data. So whilst we’re not going to all be sat at our desks tomorrow exploring granular data in an interactive visualisation, it may perhaps be a glimpse of what’s to come.

Here’s a small example of what Visual Insight can do:

blog post - graph 1

This chart plots different product groupings against Sales Quantity and Value growth. It also colours the groupings by country and sizes them by Sales Value. This allows quick identification of groupings outside the wider trend line and informs the viewer of which opportunities are most valuable to look at (size of the bubble). You could also see if any particular country displays an anomaly trend.

blog - graph 2
This visualisation networks together product groupings (tea types) to store sizes (big, medium, small). The colour and thickness of the lines visualise sales growth  so you can easily see which products are performing best in which type of store. The heat map on the right is filtered by clicking on a node in the network so that it displays which products (SKUs) are driving the trends in the network. The size of the rectangle demonstrates the value of that SKU in sales and the colour is its growth rate.

Note: The data displayed above has been randomly generated on fictitious products for the purposes on this blog. It does not in any way relate to sales performance of The Co-operative Group or of any products.


Alex Waters, Lead Analyst – @seeing_clearly

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