Monday, 18 February 2013

Data Visualisation: lifting the curse of Cassandra

CassandraInformation is the new currency, the lifeblood of organisations. However, it has to be explored, and evangelised throughout the organisation before it can have any real impact. SQL Server 2012 now helps business users to access the data; a real paradigm shift in the 'umbrella' of users who touch SQL Server.

However, does that mean that the users will be believed? The 'messenger' of the information can have a great influence on how the information is - or is not - propagated throughout the organisation. Sometimes, people are simply not believed, or their ideas entertained. This may be due to the way that they put the message across, or simply due to the fact that they can't get the message to the right people without upsetting the apple cart. 

This is about the person (or group) in the organisation, who might meet one of these criteria:
  • see a 'train crash' going to happen in the organisation, but can't should loudly enough to avert it happening.
  • see room for improvement in the business, but find it hard to get their message across
  • have a 'gut feel' about what customers are telling the enterprise, but find it hard to prove, demonstrate or research this 'gut feel'

This leads to the Cassandra Complex.  Quick history lesson: according to Greek mythology, Cassandra was the beautiful daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy. She refused the advances of Apollo, who set a curse on her: that she would always tell the truth, but never be believed.


There are parallels with this mythological figure in the workplace, which may engender your sympathy or empathy. You might see this in yourself or in someone else. Do you see the 'train crash' in the organisation before it happens, but can't get the message cross? Do you see patterns in the data, and find it hard to evangelise your findings throughout the organisation?

If so, you could be the 'Cassandra' in your organisation, or a customer or associated company, for example. It is tremendously frustrating to see issues in the organisation, but not get the message across. So, if you see someone banging their head against a wall, trying to show problems before they take hold: they do this because they care, but perhaps that isn't the best way to get the message across.  It also helps business users to test out their theory by allowing the users to explore their findings properly, before publicising them.

A better way to get the message across is to research, demonstrate and uncover the findings in the data using data visualisation technology such as Power View, which can help. It is the new part of SQL Server 2012 which allows users to touch their data; it isn't just about techies any more. By showing the 'truth' of the data, hopefully this would cure the curse of Cassandra: to be heard and also to be believed. Visualising data can bring insights, and attention, into data that can show where the problems reside in the organisation.

Data Visualisation can help to make Cassandra speak - and be believed. 

Sometimes people need to 'see' the problem before they understand it. Data Visualisation makes the insights accessible. It's harder to ignore Cassandra if the the message is shown inescapably to all, particularly when it's right in our favourite Office tools such as PowerPoint or Excel.

Making data insights accessible means that data visualisation are used to make analysing data simple, assuming the data is properly organized, cleansed and sanitised. The beauty of these solutions is that it's fast to get results, and easy to show them off. If you're interested in looking at data visualisation technology, then the Gartner Report is a good place to start. I tend to think that the technology should support the business requirements, within the budget set by the organisation for purchasing software. That's why it's difficult to recommend one over the other, since the answer is usually 'it depends'...

Whether or not the organisation works on the insights, of course, is never guaranteed. As always, life isn't that simple, but it's a new angle that might help push problems forward and turn them into solutions. 











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