Friday, January 22, 2016

Actionable Alerts!

In my previous post from the series Data Needs and Making it Useful, I wrote about how to make data driven products and it’s dependency on the first level of data needs, which are data pulls.  In this post, I am going to focus on the third level of data needs, which are alerts. 

I define alerts as delivering data as exceptions.  Unlike the data pulls and products, alerts are very focused delivery points that are based on specific thresholds.  You may not get an alert or exception every day or week.  Instead, you will get an alert or exception when sales drops below 5% of plan or website usage goes outside a 2 standard deviation of the expected trend.  Alerts require immediate attention and drive immediate action.  Alerts should say “LOOK AT ME!”


Alerts are a great tool to focus your client’s attention.  Instead of having your client go and request or look for the data to monitor, alerts optimize time by saying you only need to pay attention to when I notify you.  This saves time and effort from your client digging through data and reports to find information.

In order to be successful with alerts, there are the following criteria.  (The original assumptions from before still apply meaning the previous two levels of data needs have to be already delivered with data pulls & products.)

  •       Alerts need valid thresholds and rules to determine an alert.  If these thresholds are too tight, your clients will receive too many alerts and ultimately become numb to them.  If your iPhone has more than 30 notifications, do you look at them?  If your inbox has over 500 emails, do you really read all of them?  At the same point, if the thresholds are too loose, then your clients won’t receive the notifications to take action when truly needed.
  •      The delivery method for the alerts is critical.  This requires an understanding of what your client is accustomed to and what kind of accessibility do they have.  If you deliver an alert through email, but your client receives over 500 emails a day, will this get lost in the mix?  My suggested options to consider for alerting are mobile notifications, text messages, phone calls.  These all scream, “PAY ATTENTION TO ME NOW.”  Email and posts on internal social sites or products are also options, but may not get the same attention.
  •       Can I do something with the alert? Alerts are something to be very specific about when building.  Is this metric something that I need to alert clients on and can they do something about it?  For example, if sales last month miss the threshold, is there something I can do take action on to correct it?  If the month already happened, then there probably isn’t much I can do to change it.



Bottom line, alerts are a powerful tool to notify when something needs attention.  With the sea of data and information out there today, your clients need to focus on what is most important for the business and use data and alerts to take action when necessary.  Alerts optimize time and effort effectively based on what the data is providing.  This allows your clients to focus on their primary responsibility instead of sifting through data.


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