The fundamentals of management information - C
An important design element that is often overlooked. Readers stumble over inconsistent terms, confusing abbreviations, complex references, and long legends – and get sidetracked quickly or loose the → attention. In borderline cases, the caption determines if a very good report is useless . In corporate environments where employees frequently come and go, using terms that only insiders understand is unproductive. In DeltaMaster, you can administer and maintain long and short descriptions, automatically generate dynamic captions, and do other helpful things to support your readers.
Our tried-and-tested standard for financial controlling reports as a → graphic table. You can use the same layout and reading order of the measures and comparison method (e.g. cumulated, budget/actual) for many different report topics such as P&L, cost accounting, sales statistics, production output, human resources, or transportation logistics. The central report is one of the → templates in DeltaMaster. It defines how to use sparklines and graphical elements so that readers can recognize patterns to quickly understand the company’s status quo and identify the causes in the necessary detail – all in the same report.
A challenge in designing information. People overestimate how reliable their own perception is. People basically oversee more than they actually see. People can overlook even major changes, (for example, between two pictures) if they are focused on something else or distracted briefly. DeltaMaster deals with this phenomenon by applying ‘A subtle, yet bold statement‘. Large colored signals grab your attention while smaller ones direct your attention to details and underlying causes.
Chart (bar, column, line, pie)
Graphical coding of numbers. Most common forms today were invented over 200 years ago and have not developed much further since. It appears that misunderstandings and manipulations are quite common – oftentimes because the authors do not know any better. In recent years, there has been much debate about new graphical forms. → Sparklines are one of the greatest innovations. We have made great efforts to replace the typical, space-consuming (→ resolution) charts through → graphical tables. Bella regularly tears apart → infographics from daily newspapers and shows better alternatives.
Data centers that deliver applications through the Internet or another network. In the case of management information, cloud computing often means using a browser as a front end to data that can be located anywhere. That is a prerequisite for interactive mobile applications. The benefits that users have from cloud computing depend on how well the applications can work around the limitations of browsers. DeltaMaster supports browsers and mobile devices with gestures as a hybrid app that works as a native cover for a browser. That makes it an elegant and efficient solution.
An important design element in reports. Colors make us happy and add a certain “wow” factor. Colored pictures are easier to remember than black-and-white ones. There are many arguments for the extensive use of colors. Yet when everything should be uniform, you quickly run out of color options. Bella has frequently discussed this topic. Even when CI intervenes, there are few conventions to keep in mind – for example, that positive numbers should not be written in red even if the color is a core element of the CI. The word is starting to spread that red and green do not contrast well due to physiological reasons. As a whole, colors are a difficult subject where less is definitely more. The → notation of colors in DeltaMaster is radical and simple. Blue is good; red is bad. It also offers a carefully chosen palette for color legends.
A common form of → charts that are especially suitable for displaying → developments over time. You can even recognize different time intervals when the columns are very small, which is not the case with → lines. That’s why column charts are our preferred format for → sparklines in a → gross margin calculation during the fiscal year. If you are working with long time series and values that grow from period to period and can create trends, line charts are the better alternative because you can use a → logarithmic scale to make several series comparable. Since the text runs at a 90 degree angle to the slim column, labeling is often difficult. DeltaMaster can integrate columns in → graphic tables and place labels in an upright position.
Top row of a table and column label. Headers play a central role because their arrangement determines the order in which you read and process them. Column headers are a component of → report rules. They are well done when you can read and process them in the same order without your eyes needing to jump back and forth. In DeltaMaster, we have standardized column headers with → templates.
A criterion for quality reports. When things are placed next to each other, people inevitably compare them and check for correlations. Bella criticizes that many newspapers set a bad example and place time series of indexes next to each other but without using a → comparable scale.
In business intelligence and beyond, diagrams that show developments over time should use the same steepness to represent the same change. In equity research, a separate diagram is used for each stock and the Y axes are selected in such a way that the maximum is always the same multiple of the minimum. The logarithmic scaling of the Y axis helps in the case of significant differences in value. The business pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are skilled at using these intricacies. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of their German counterparts, which frequently feature incorrectly scaled diagrams and hence misleading comparisons.
A statement about data. Gene Zelazny names five basic types (i.e. structure, ranking, time series, frequency and correlation comparisons) which, in turn, correspond with different chart types (i.e. circle, bar, column, or curve charts, histogram or frequency curves, and dot charts). We feel that regional comparisons with maps, position comparisons in a matrix (→ portfolio analysis), comparisons of different concentrations (→ concentration analysis), and comparisons of → variances are also important. DeltaMaster offers these chart types as built-in features.
Concentration (ABC) Analysis
An instrument for analyzing risks. A concentration analysis, for example, can reveal if a company generates a significant percentage of revenues with just a few customers or products – the so-called 80 : 20 rule. In DeltaMaster, you can then group these customers or products into new classes and examine them further.
We are increasingly fascinated by how high resolutions are allowing the “digital analogization” of mission-critical processes. For example, DeltaMaster can display a ticker of product images at the rate at which they are sold or delivered. You can literally see how things are going at that very moment and intervene as long as the numbers can still be changed.
Corporate Identity (CI)
A priority in marketing, of secondary concern in controlling. An abundance of red makes for a risky CI: Now and again, the controlling department believes it has to color black numbers red so as to comply with the company’s CI. In fact, this risks the opposite happening: a lack of clarity and inconsistency. Fluctuation is normal nowadays; new employees are taken aback and have to adapt their thinking. Black for good numbers and red to draw attention and show losses – this is the standard and it is well established and widespread. Anyone who changes this does so at their expense. It requires great effort for no benefit. This phenomenon is particularly strange in annual reports, where readers are in a particular rush and interpret even the most positive numbers as being red. When it is then in fact time to show declines or losses – even if these relate to competitors’ disadvantages – the marketing department have run out of colors to use and so that’s the end of the corporate identity.
Cumulative variance is an extremely simple and useful shortcut for performance management that eliminates the need to pore over monthly figures and examine their ups and downs. It illustrates the overall trend for the year in a compact form. Looking at the relative monthly variance and the relative cumulative variance side by side immediately shows whether the current month is deviating from the typical pattern for the year to date, or whether the trend is continuing. Quick and simple: That’s what business intelligence is all about. We have far more data than time, so we should always make use of shortcuts.