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How Analytics Dashboards Can Help You Make Better Decisions – And Maybe Even Fight Fraud

By: Christopher Zingalli, CPA

Think of a car and the important information you get from the dials and dashboard: fuel levels, coolant readings, oil change reminder, check engine light, tire pressure, among others. These are all important indicators you need to watch to keep your vehicle running efficiently and effectively.

Imagine applying those same dashboards – in theory – to your business so you can monitor key aspects of your business from every angle in real time. The best part is, you can with data visualization dashboards.

For any business, especially small or medium-sized organizations that may be stretched thin from a staffing perspective or don’t have the time to prepare and review historical information on complex reports such as spreadsheets and financial statements to draw conclusions, business intelligence and analytics dashboards are a great way to easily identify the overall condition of a business in real time to identify cost savings opportunities and even identify potential fraud.

What are Business Intelligence Dashboards?

Simply put, business intelligence dashboards collect, integrate and present information from various sources in an easy-to-digest format to help business leaders make more informed decisions about their operations now and for the future. Dashboards give leadership the information they need now to make decisions for tomorrow by complementing and summarizing lengthy or complex financial reports. In some cases, they can even replace internal and management reporting.

These real-time reports and dashboards, whether monthly, weekly, daily or even hourly, allow decision makers to analyze operations on all levels while providing the metrics owners care about, including everything from sales tracking to inventory management, cash flow to employee productivity. For example, a sales dashboard could include visualizations of a sales over time, sales by location, sales as related to customer acquisition costs, repeat sales and the impact of discounting.

While business intelligence dashboards provide historical and real-time reporting opportunities, they can also offer predictive results using financial and operational data generated by the business. Their ability to bring together widely disparate data to discover unseen relationships also makes them a key tool to help detect costs savings and potentially identify fraud. For small businesses, this can easily happen when employees recognize opportunities to do so and believe management won’t notice their actions will go unnoticed by management.

How a Dashboard Saved a Small Business Thousands in Fraud Identification

This is a real-life story of how data visualization dashboards not only replaced 90% of one small business’ management reporting process, but also detected a fairly simple, but costly fraud scheme.

The owner of a carwash chain that recently implemented business intelligence dashboards uses them to monitor key operations, which allows for real-time and timely daily, weekly and monthly reporting. Everything was running smoothly until the dashboard started to show a higher-than-normal trend in the average “free washes” for a few days of the previous weeks.

He called his accountant and said, “I don’t think the dashboard is working properly because free washes are way too high the past few weeks.” He then asked if there was a mapping issue behind the scenes and inquired if certain counts were being duplicated in the metrics. After further review, all reporting to the dashboard was working properly, but the carwash owner knew something still wasn’t adding up.  The owner and his advisor considered all the options on why the numbers appeared off, which included exploring possible employee fraud.

This particular carwash has greeters at each of the self-service payment kiosks upon entering to help customers if they have problems with the self-service device. Each greeter has a free wash card, which allows the greeters and managers to put through customers for a complimentary wash – normal uses of this would be issues with the payment kiosk or a previous paying customer who was unhappy with the quality of the wash who would then be allowed to go back through the tunnel.

The owner then used the dashboards to dig into specific hours of specific days where a higher-than-normal number of free washes were processed. He then started to review security camera footage around these times to see if there was any indication of foul play at the point of purchase. What he found was a new greeter, hired just weeks prior, who was swiping his free-wash card upon entry of every paying customer vehicle – as the customer pulled up, if the customer was paying with credit card, the greeter would “cancel” the free wash and swipe the customer’s credit card. If the customer was paying with cash, he would continue the process, place the cash in his pocket, and the paying customer would pull through to the wash tunnel.

While the scheme cost the carwash thousands of dollars, the loss could have continued for weeks, or months if not for the timely dashboard reporting. The owner and his advisor immediately built in enhancements to the free carwash dashboard to provide a greater number of metrics, which are now monitored closer than ever. The business also used this experience to overhaul its entire free wash system from an operations standpoint.

Are You Ready to Create Your Dashboard?

Business intelligence dashboards have many uses. Not only can they improve a business’ financial and operating reporting, but they can provide leadership with the necessary tools to identify trends, make more accurate forecasts, create more educated savings and growth strategies, and as shown above, uncover fraud and refine operating processes and policies.

Is your business or organization ready to create, review or enhance your business intelligence reporting dashboards? If so, the Janover team can help. Click here to contact us so we can create a strategy that will help you identify savings, improve your operations and keep your business growing.

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