Think about how many data dashboards you look at: from Chartbeat to Omniture to Google Analytics to Tableau to email campaign reports to weather reports to a million and one journalistic data visualizations…the list could go on for a long time.
In this age of Big Data, it’s common to hear someone say, “We can collect all that data and then show it to people!” This collect-it-show-it routine feels like mere baby steps in the Big Data revolution.
The data is not useful until someone (human or machine) carries out three steps:
- Take Action
The Nest Thermostat is a great example of a machine doing all three of these steps. The thermostat *collects* data about a house’s temperature. It then *decides* whether or not the temperature is desirable. And then, it *takes action* by turning on the heating or cooling systems. The whole process is quite simple conceptually, but the latter two steps are something humans no longer have to spend time doing, which is awesome and is apparently worth $3.2 billion.
The tech community at large has done a very impressive job with the collection portion thus far, and for many, more complex decisions and actions, we’ll always need humans to step in. But, as Nest has shown us, there are mundane human tasks that machines could do just as well, if not better. Automating them can be magical and enormously valuable.
So, the next time you’re working on an application that is collecting a pile of data, before you visualize it, ask yourself, “what small, simple decisions and actions could a machine take before a human ever gets involved.” You might stumble on something much more exciting than a dashboard.