Does your city have a data dashboard?

I love data dashboards. They are a great way to visualize data, to spot trends quickly, to get a handle on complex relationships, and to just geek out in general. At the Tableau conference last fall, the central ballroom area had its own data dashboard that showed you interesting up-to-the-second stats about how many Tweets were posted, where attendees came from, and other fun conference facts. You would expect something from the company that delivers a data dashboard product line to do something like this.

Data dashboards are popping up everywhere, and this past week I took a closer look at some of the ones that local cities are creating to monitor their own performance and connect to their citizens. A good “mayor’s dashboard,” as they are known, should show a lot of information in one screen, be attractive but not completely eye candy, and do more than just be a brochure for advancing the latest political agenda.

When you think about a mayor’s dashboard, it would be nice if they were actually used by the mayor to monitor progress and to help with his or her decision-making too. It should weigh items such as crime stats, quality of life metrics, and things that a city’s residents care about: trash pickup, time on hold in various phone queues and so forth. While the mayor’s dashboard is still an evolving area, here are some example of cities that have already implemented them and my initial thoughts.

And if you want some great general guidelines on building your own dashboard, start with this presentation from a past Tableau conference here.

Feel free to recommend your own in the comments below.

New York City has been working hard on opening various databases to public access, with more than 1200 different ones that can display various insights. It is all a bit overwhelming, not much different that what a visitor new to the city might find in real life. There isn’t a single pane of glass to summarize the information that I could find however.

bostonwBoston’s Mayor Walsh has had a public dashboard for more than a year, and is perhaps one of the more attractive ones (one part of which is shown here), with a rotating series of graphics on city performance data. You can see that there have four homicides this year, and compare with last year’s numbers. This is very actionable information too.

You would expect Portland Oregon to have a dashboard, and it does, showing things such as the percentage of renewable energy consumed and other groovy-oriented stats. It is arranged as more of a brochure than a dashboard: so you have to click around to find a particular stat, such as the average response time for a fire alarm is more than seven minutes. You can see in the graph that this hasn’t changed much over the years.

Detroit’s dashboard is more of a book report than an interactive dashboard. This shows you what they have accomplished last week such as how many LED-based streetlights were installed or blighted homes torn down.

London’s dashboard was launched last fall and is just for crime stats. It is chock full of graphs and figures, but you can’t see the whole picture on one page unfortunately.

Denver’s dashboard is more of an RSS portal, and you can customize it to your own particular needs, displaying alerts and news feeds on economic or public safety stats.

LA has several different data dashboards including a “performance” top-line summary that shows single numbers for things such as total employment, non-attainment air quality days, and the time it takes for police to respond to 911 calls. Clicking on any of these items will bring up graphical displays and lots of city rhetoric and more marketing information. There is also an open data project too.

Seattle’s dashboard has a similar design to LA’s, with single number top-line summaries that can be expanded with more graphical detail.

Meetup adds ‘Chip in’ donation feature today

Perhaps you know already about Meetup.com, the site that anyone can organize any group on any topic. I have not been an organizer but have attended numerous meetups in St. Louis, and used the site to research people that I wanted to connect with when I traveled to other cities around the world in the past. Today Meetup organizers are getting a new incentive: the ability to add a “chip in” button so that members can donate cash to the group.

“We want to make it easy for supportive members to chip in on costs and help make Meetup groups even better,” according to a post on their blog this morning As of today, any group or event organizer can quickly add this feature. It is a pretty bold experiment and perhaps the widest expansion of crowdsourcing to date. To give you an idea of the scope of this work, there are nearly 200,000 meetups around the world organizing half a million events every month.

contributions 2The way it works is simple: a Chip In button on the Meetup home page will bring up a dialog box asking for your contribution, as shown here. You enter your payment information and you are done. It works on both web browsers and phone apps.

Meetups are a pretty low-budget affair, for the most part. Many organizers pay for the costs of running the meeting (beer and pizza are the usual enticements) out of their own pockets, or else try to find a corporate sponsor (such as the company who is hosting the meeting at their facilities), but the Chip In feature formalizes this and makes it easier to raise funds. About 2,000 Meetups have already been using the feature and have found it very helpful, as you can imagine. While Meetup.com won’t reveal how much money has been collected, I hear it is quite impressive.

My long-time colleague and friend Tristan Louis has been heading up this effort and he told me, “We’re trying to carefully introduce ways to help the organizers without requiring them to ask the uncomfortable questions surrounding money. We know that organizers often get stuck being the ones paying for the pizza and we want to change that dynamic by having everyone chip in.” Contributions aren’t mandatory, but we’ll see if the psycho-dynamics of the meetup changes as a result of them.

Building your own early warning system

 

What do a bowl of yellow M&Ms have to do with the Distant Early Warning or DEW line? Both are ways to provide early warning systems of sorts. Let me explain.

The DEW line was a big deal back in its day. The idea was to be notified of any incoming Soviet bombers that were going to take us out by flying over the pole. The system of radar installations stretched across northern Canada and Alaska back in the cold war when both countries were stockpiling thousands of nuclear bombs. It would just take a few minutes for a bomber or a missile to reach our country, hence having a series of detection points closer to the source could provide a few minutes’ warning of an imminent attack.

The same could be said for the bowl of M&Ms. A friend of mine is a musician and explained the typical concert contract riders that specified a particular color of candy present in the dressing rooms or backstage. It wasn’t because the musicians were being prima donnas, as I always thought. “They wrote these riders as an early warning system. If a band showed up at a venue and saw the wrong color of candy, they knew they had better get out to the stage and spend some more rehearsal time. If the venue didn’t read the contract, it meant that other things probably wouldn’t be right for their show. It had nothing to do with their personal preferences,” he told me. Snopes quotes David Lee Roth of Van Halen, who put on some very complex shows, here: “If I saw a brown M&M in that bowl . . . well, line-check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error. They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.”

Great idea, I thought. Those old rockers were on to something after all.

I thought about this as I attended the annual Teradata Partners conference last week in Nashville. I have been coming to this show for several years and find it very interesting, mainly because so many IT managers present what they are doing at dozens of sessions. This year’s show was no different, and I heard a lot of folks talk about they have developed their own early warning systems that they have put into place.

For example, what about tracking what happens to your worst customers? These are people that you want to know about, and try to fix their problem before they actually leave you for your competitors. Wouldn’t it nice if you could be notified about some issue in time to change their minds? That is one of the things that Teradata excels at with its various data warehousing and analytic tools.

One British clothing retailer has gone so far to set up its systems so that it can tell when an online shopper is calling its call center trying to complete an order. While that can be borderline creepy, it can help increase revenues and customer satisfaction rates too. Wells Fargo Bank has a number of executive dashboards that are used to track what banking products are used by their customers, as a way to see who isn’t really engaged.

Interestingly, the same systems can also be used to track what is going on with your best customers too.

So whether it is a bowl of candy or some multimillion dollar systems, think about ways that you can detect early trends and keep your customers.

Solution Providers for Retail blog: How 7-Eleven Built Its Digital Guest Engagement Program From Scratch

Two years ago, the convenience store chain 7-Eleven had no data warehouse, no smartphone app for its customers, and had a loyalty program that still used paper punch cards. Since then it has built the beginnings of a digital customer engagement program. At the recent Teradata Partners conference in Nashville this week, they described how they did it.

All it took was finding the right VAR and spending some significant cash.

Well, not quite. As you can imagine, there was a lot more involved.

You can read my post for the Solution Providers for Retail blog here.

ITworld: How to get the most value from a data dashboard

When it comes to convincing your boss of the value of a data dashboard, nothing works better than when you can save money as a result of a trend that you visualized. This is what one of the data-driven marketing staff did for the Texas Rangers baseball team; their dashboard saved about $45,000 in annual costs.

This and more stories about data dashboards from the Tableau conference earlier this month in Seattle can be found in my article on ITWorld here.