The Power of Real-Time Data

by Katy Beloof

Large volumes of data are transforming the way we execute work and do business today. Business is moving at a faster velocity than ever before, and access to accurate, real-time data has the potential to be a competitive differentiator. But with more and more information available, it can be challenging to get ahold of the timely data needed to make key business decisions.

Dean Vaughn, Vice President of Construction Services at Sodexo, spoke about the significance of accurate and timely data at the Smartsheet ENGAGE customer conference. In this post we’ll look at some of his insights into what organizations can do to stay competitive in an economy where data is transforming how we do business.

Timely Data Drives Business Success

A man points at a Smartsheet dashboard on a large monitor during a meeting.

A lack of accurate and timely data limits business leaders’ abilities to make the best possible decisions for their businesses. While Sodexo is a Fortune Global 500 company, Vaughn sees data as critical for businesses of any size.

“The management of data and the timeliness of that data is key to any successful business, regardless if it's a small venture or a large venture,” says Vaughn. “Information that drives the success of that 10 million dollar business is just as important as it is to the 500 million dollar category.”

Timely data is particularly critical in competitive markets where speedy decision making can be the competitive advantage that keeps an organization thriving.

Old Data is a Mission Killer

If timely information is the lifeblood of a business, outdated data can cause real harm to an organization. “Old data is a mission killer,” says Vaughn. But before using Smartsheet dashboards, the administrative burden of reporting meant that delivering old, stale data was the norm for Vaughn’s organization. Here’s how Vaughn described it:

In the old days, what did we do? We ran a month, we had a period close, we ran a month-end. [It] took us one week to two weeks to convey all of our data. By the time you got it all conveyed and analyzed and everybody had signed off on it and they played in their report and they send it to you. And you pump it into an Excel spreadsheet and you create a PowerPoint, and you send it to somebody. You’re seven weeks away from what you had just delivered.

Making decisions based off of seven-week-old data makes it nearly impossible to make the best decisions for your organization. At that point, the data has aged enough that you don’t really know what is happening in the business, so any decision you make to pivot or change course is often not as effective as it would have been seven weeks prior.

Presenting old data also erodes trust with customers, who likely have a more current sense of how a project is faring. Your project may have been on track seven weeks ago, but is it still moving forward as planned? If you can’t answer that question, how can you expect customers to trust that you’re on track?

Death by Bullet Points

Not only did disconnected data at Sodexo mean that the data delivered to clients and executives had a considerable lag time, it also placed a significant administrative burden on the organization.

Before turning to dashboards, Vaughn’s team would execute anywhere from 60 to 80 projects a year for clients, and generate monthly reports for each of those. Vaughn estimates that three or four full-time employees were dedicated to generating and creating all of those reports and presentation decks.


Better Visibility, Decisions With Dashboard Chart Updates

“I used to look at PowerPoints for us as death by bullet points. And death by pictures and static information on a page,” Vaughn shares. PowerPoint is an effective presentation software, but is suboptimal for reporting, with static information and time wasted re-doing decks to try and keep data current.

Vaughn adds, “How many PowerPoints would we have to redo when somebody — two days, or one day or four hours before they had to make a presentation, says ‘Oh I don't like the information on that slide. Won't you redo that?’ [With dashboards] we don't have to do that anymore.”

Breathing New Life into Data

An example dashboard displays financial performance with graphs, bar charts, and more.

Smartsheet dashboards have changed the way Vaughn looks at doing business and how he and his team convey timely information to their clients to drive projects forward. Project data rolls up into dynamic dashboards that display key metrics and performance indicators, and critical information is surfaced in real-time.

“Real-time data at least gives you the opportunity to not make that classic mistake of just making decisions off of old plated information,” says Vaughn, “And that’s critical to our business.”

Interested in attending Smartsheet ENGAGE this year? You can sign up for updates here.