Thursday, June 14, 2007

Near Real Time Reporting

For most important situations in life where trend visualization is helpful, we are lucky that real time reporting is not required. However, collecting the data and reporting it within a reasonable time from the end of measurement is important and can deeply impact the value and usefulness of what we have collected.

An Unacceptable Delay. We noted earlier today in the post on the New York Times Iraq Progress Graphic how the underlying data from the DoD quarterly report to Congress only covered up through May 4th. So in effect we were looking at data that wasn't produced in a report till 5 and 1/2 weeks after the end of the most recently reported period.

In my opinion, this represents an unacceptable delay and that delay severely impacts the ability of any audience to gauge what the data means and to decide what to do next.

If the underlying data for attacks and for casualties were collected at the recommended rate of once per day, a near real time report on June 13th would be best if it covered everything that happened up through one, two or three days prior to June 13th.

Fresh Data. The combination of high frequency measurement and near real time reporting means that the data we are looking at is fresh - a vital quality in any rapidly changing situation. There are numerous examples in other aspects of our lives where near real time reporting and high resolution reporting are simply the norm (the stock market being a prime example).

There are sometimes situations that delay and interfere with our ability to roll up the most recent results of a particular indicator. In some cases, these are historical and can be overcome and minimized if we decide to put our minds to it and invest in the needed infrastructure to make it happen. In other cases, there are time lags that are mostly out of our control. The best we can do in these cases may be to put our energy towards devising ways to minimize the delay.

Bottom line: In a trend chart that is going to help us understand what is truly going on, timeliness is very important. When we get our measurement rate set appropriately and we make every effort to minimize the delay between collection and reporting, the trend work that we do will have the maximum value to all those who are interested.

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