Early 2016 Google announced, as part of the new Google Analytics 360 suite, a new data visualisation and reporting tool called Data Studio 360. And just a while back at the Google Performance Summit, they announced there would be a free version of the Data Studio targeted at single users and small teams. As we at MultiMinds are rather a compact team and many of our clients’ in-house analytics teams are not that huge as well, the new Google Data Studio may very well become one of the go-to tools we’ll be supporting as a dashboarding platform of choice.
What is Google Data Studio
In essence, Google Data Studio is a dashboarding solution. It lets you connect data from multiple sources and turn that data into nice looking dashboards. It’s not a real BI tool and to me, its focus seems to be more on communicating data and sharing data. In that sense, Google Data Studio is situated more closely to a Klipfolio than a Tableau. With the ability to share dashboards as a primary driver, you can see that the entire platform is built around that premise. Data Studio is a tool specifically designed to help you communicate data and create dashboards that everybody can understand.
Connectivity is everything
As a dashboarding solution, a platform is only as strong as the data it can connect with. And this is where Google Data Studio lacks right now. Speaking of today you can connect to a handful of Google services: Analytics, Adwords, Sheets, YouTube and BigQuery. However, the platform is still in beta and I’m sure many more connectors will be added in time. One such connector that, according to the Analytics blog, will be added soon is an SQL database connector. This will open up the platform a bit and make it a lot easier to access first-party data.
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Getting started with Google Data Studio
When you first log onto Google Data Studio you’re greeted with a tutorial dashboard that explains the basic concepts and guides you through the creation of a dashboard. To me, it seemed a bit overboard as the general UI is very well designed and uses a lot of familiar concepts. I think most people would have no issue skipping the tutorial and diving right in.
Once you’re on your own there’re two things you can do: create a report or add a data source. Adding a data source is really easy and compared to other tools I’ve used it’s super smooth. Integration is tight, and that probably has something to do with the fact that right now it is all Google services. It will be interesting to see how they will handle third party integrations.
With a couple of data sources set up, we can now create a report with some meaning. While creating a new report you’re asked to attach one or more of the data sources you defined and after that, you’re presented with a blank canvas. And I say canvas because it really acts like a canvas, not a widget based grid system that many other similar tools use. This approach and the way the UI is designed around it made it feel more like a simplified version of a vector editing tool. And playing around with the interface really makes it apparent that they went for a design-first strategy.
With Google Data Studio you select your visualisation first and connect the data second. It’s an important distinction that requires you to think about your data before design your report. Other tools let you select your data first and let you fool around with different visualisations afterwards. I’m not entirely sure which method is better, and it might just be a matter of preference. Once you’ve added a visualisation to the canvas there is a whole bunch of options to edit its data and visual style. Nothing too advanced, but just enough to make it your own. Aside from the different visualisations, there’s also a bunch of other elements (text, images, shapes) that will help you to add some context to your reports.
All in all, it feels like a very natural way to create reports. Data Studio gives you lots of freedom and takes away the constraints that you’ll find in some of those grid based tools or more structured custom Google Analytics reports.
So, will we start using Data Studio and recommend it to our clients today? No, it’s too soon. But it holds a promising future. The biggest limitation today are its connectors, with what they’re offering now I can’t see a single case where Data Studio would be a good fit. If they have the courage to open up the platform to a wide array of services and provide enough options to connect with first party data, Google Data Studio might one day become a very real option. Time will tell.