thousands of rows
of CSV data
in numerous files

files of original data, thousands of rows

as a
click-of-button solution

interface to select input file and update workbook

and a

interface to select input file and update workbook

and you
knowing instead of guessing

hero with data tools

Customized Data Tools

Whether you came to this page because you spend your nights and weekends "hand-jamming" reports, or because you're not sure how to pull together your data to tell your story or persuade others to your view, or because you know you could do more with your time if you weren't burdened by technology that's impeding your access to your data, you have a data tool issue. You're stuck in a quagmire of mundane tasks. You would make a greater impact if only you could compile and deliver datasets, analyses, and reports when they're actually needed. Forego the mundane and make your mark with a click-of-a-button solution that will enable you to find your data, and discover and share your insights in an impactful way.

Think automated dashboards, formatted reports with embedded charts and other data that are automatically generated for you, and aesthetically-pleasing tools that actually help you persuade others to your point of view. We can work together to set up a system that lets you collect the data you need in the format you need so that you can start making more data-driven decisions. To get the tool you need, you might also have to get over a data wrangling hurdle. That's not an upsell, just a fact, and we'll "cross that bridge" together if we need to.

Because this can be such a nebulous process, and the possibilities are almost endless, I'll provide two case studies of how a simple process change using Microsoft Excel made a huge impact.

A Case Study: Changing the format of the raw data

A manager over several departments was regularly working with "data dumps,", that is, CSV files that were being automatically generated from a company-wide system and placed in a shared folder. While each file captured all of the data needed, this client needed an easy way to separate out only the data for the departments he oversaw (i.e., his division). Additionally, he wanted to be able to make notations on that data and send it to the department supervisors for review and response.

In this case, the solution was to create a tool that let the client select which CSV to work from, and then click a button. In Excel, something that he and all of his supervisors have installed, a new workbook was created in which a separate worksheet was created for each of the departments. The client was able to review and annotate each department in turn, row-by-row when desired, or filtered for just certain values (e.g., just full time employees). At a click-of-a-button, the client could then email each of the supervisors an Excel workbook that contained the worksheet for only that supervisor's department.

In this way, the client was able to discard all columns and rows he wasn't interested in, review each department in its entirety for annotation, and email each supervisor an annotated dataset that contained exactly what the client wanted to communicate and what the client wanted back from the supervisor in response. This eliminated distraction for both himself and the supervisors, ensured every needed row of data was correctly copied over, and got the work done more quickly and more reliably than when it was done by hand.

A Case Study: Automating an Excel-based dashboard

A manager working from CSV data needed a way to quickly "roll up" thousands of rows of data into easy-to-digest visualizations. This data was being updated weekly, and went back multiple years.

In this case, the solution was to create a tool that let the client select the folder in which the CSV files were housed as well as a date range, and then click a button. In Excel, a tool he could easily use at his home office as well as on work computers, the data from the date range selected was automatically imported, ignoring or discarding everything else. Because we had spent time to model the entire process from raw data to visualizations, all of the analysis was also automated, and the dashboard was automatically updated to reflect the newly imported data sets. The dashboard was interactive, allowing the client to further explore the data and make informed decisions based on analyses that could be updated within an hour of the new data becoming available.

How this works...

Blou Designs has honed a 5-Phase methodology for designing and developing customized data tools within budget.

We Discover

Barbara will meet with you — by phone, by video chat, or in person — to discuss your immediate needs and your long-term objectives. If we decide we're a good fit, we'll start on your project.
We Plan

This is where we nail down your success criteria for this solution and how this new solution fits into your overall desired business flow.

If you already have a scope of work (SOW) in place, Blou Designs will work with you from that scope. If you're still in the planning phase, Blou Designs can assist with solidifying your needs into a SOW.

Based on our discussions and analyses, Blou Designs will devise a technical plan (including cost estimates) to develop your solution. Things like button colors will come later, but this plan will reflect all of the important dates (the schedule), data sources and formats, and all responsible persons.
We Prototype

Based on your deadline and the schedule we agreed upon in Phase 2, Blou Designs will develop and test your project as a series of working prototypes.

You'll also review and test these prototypes as they evolve into the final deliverable. Sometimes these reviews result in new feature requests. Blou Designs can help you assess these change requests and determine whether your deadline and budget allow for the incorporation of these new features or feature changes.

Because you are part of the development process, you'll know that the project is on-track with what you want.
We Deliver

On time and within budget, your final solution is delivered to you.

There won't be any surprises, because you've been a part of the prototype and review process the entire time.
We Support

Support can take the form of:
  • Documentation
  • Training
  • Phone calls
  • Feature updates on an as-needed basis
  • A service contract
You pick the support option or options that best fit your needs and your budget.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are you taking new projects right now?

Yes! Let's connect

Can I add or remove features as we go?

Yes. We understand that data tool development can be a dynamic process. Sometimes you don't realize there's a feature you want until you see your solution begin to take shape. We're always happy to discuss change requests with you, and explore how they might fit within your timeframe and budget.

What happens after the data tool is delivered? Who handles support? Who adds new features? Who fixes bugs?

Blou Designs' data tool solutions are designed to leave you as self-sufficient as you want to be. If you have an existing IT team that wants to take over maintenance of the delivered solution, Blou Designs will build that into your contract. If not, Blou Designs will be there to help.

We realize that sometimes a bug slips through the cracks, sometimes there's a feature that couldn't be added to the original tool because of lack of time or money or managerial approval, and sometimes you need training for employees new to the process or new to data. Blou Designs will be available on an as-needed basis for all of these situations.

Why should I spend money on custom data tools?

There are a lot of things to take into consideration when faced with a custom data tool project, only one of which is budget. Basically, you should at least review your business, your existing software and toolset, and your people.

  1. Tally the number of manpower hours spent doing things the way they're done now. How much does that cost in terms of employee salaries?
  2. Think about the parts of that process that are repetitive and that could be automated, like monthly reports that pull from the same data and perform the same analysis every month.
  3. Think about the parts of that process that are "busy work", like logging into multiple systems to grab data from each of them, or copying charts from MS Excel into MS Word or MS PowerPoint.
  4. Now calculate how much time (and money on employee salaries and benefits) can be saved if you automate those tasks or integrate those systems. That's the budget you save every year once you have a custom solution in place.
Now you just have to ask, Does that budget justify paying for a custom data tool alternative?

How long does it take?

It really depends on the complexity of the work you've requested. A typical MS Excel project, complete with macros and templates and data integration, can be completed in under 200 hours.

How do you bill?

Unless we've come to some other arrangement, we bill monthly. Work will be invoiced in 15-minute increments at the hourly rate for the service provided.