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Shocking data dashboard confession: “I’ve deceived you”

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Shocking data dashboard confession: “I’ve deceived you”

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Note: This post about how a dashboard tells all originally appeared in the Cognos Analytics Community. You can check it out here.

Years of mistaking correlation for causation

When your the artificial intelligence in your data dashboard reaches full maturity, it will have to apologize: “Sorry I’ve been deceiving you.” Without your knowing, it’s delivered years of misinformation.  That dashboard solution that promised it would always be, “intuitive, interactive, and drag and drop” will use its AI capability to say, “It’s not my fault; I was never equipped to show differences between causation and correlation.”

So, basically, that data “snapshot” in your data discovery dashboard unfortunately, probably did not make you a better leader or decision maker.  In fact, it’s most likely deceiving you into seeing correlation instead of causation. This is a mistake that usually doesn’t end well.

“…dashboards are poor at providing the nuance and context that effective data-driven decision making demands.”
-Harvard Business Review 13 Jan 2017

Getting your dashboard right

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) offers caution to executives everywhere.  In 3 Ways Data Dashboards Can Mislead You, Joel Shapiro makes its point clear; you need both predictive and prescriptive analytics to get dashboards right. Many data discovery vendors have been ignoring this for years by offering dashboards that only deal with current or past activity.

“Make your data make an impact “
– Data discovery vendor

The tagline offered by one vendor makes it sound like visualization is all you need to prove your point. But what if the visualization misleads you?

It’s a tangled web the dashboard can weave…

In the graphic, you’ll see an obvious pattern between people who die from becoming tangled in bed sheets and per capita cheese consumption in the US (Source: Spurious Correlations).  Most dashboards and data discovery tools deceive you into the belief these groupings are interconnected.  There is correlation in values but it does NOT mean that change in one variable (cheese) is the cause of change in the values of other variables (death).  You won’t know, but your dashboard was misleading you.


“It’s far too easy — and unfortunately common — for managers to interpret the groupings in a dashboard as causative when they may not be.”
-Harvard Business Review 13 Jan 2017

When you’re caught up in the elegance of data dashboards, it’s easy to dismiss the underlying analytics.  An attractive chart describing what has happened is undoubtedly less intimidating than an attempt to understand what will happen.  But there’s no longer an excuse for mistaking the two. Past activity is not a predictor of the future.

In the past, analytics might have been inaccessible to senior management, but with new natural-language solutions, that no longer needs to be the case.

Watson Analytics dashboard

Don’t wait for your data dashboard confession

If your dashboard could talk right now it might say, Save yourself and see what analytics can do for you. Start a free trial of Watson Analytics before it’s too late!”

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