As a BI Consultant, I am often asked, “What can dashboards do for me?” Well, the elevator pitch answer is… Dashboards can give you a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance. But what does this really mean?
1. “Visual display” – Dashboards are meant to display high-level, aggregated data and then allow the user to drilldown into more and more detailed views of the data. It does this graphically through the use of various chart types (pies, bullets, funnels, etc.) instead of simply displaying rows and rows of data as it is done in reports.
2. “Most important information” – Dashboards should be designed by individuals in an organization that know the most important performance data that should be monitored. Dashboards allow these individuals to communicate this important information to the organization and to make sure it is communicated properly and effectively. By designing and building dashboards that focus on KPIs (key performance indicators), users are not bogged down with erroneous data and can focus their attention on the important stuff.
3. “One or more objectives” – A great thing about dashboards is that you can have lots of them. Report or Excel overload can paralyze a person, but viewing multiple well designed, visually-rich dashboards is not stressful. Therefore, you can have multiple dashboards that support multiple objectives, making it easy and enjoyable for a person to keep track of performance for each objective.
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4. “Single screen” – Each chart in a dashboard can pull data from a different data source, therefore allowing the dashboard to present data from multiple disparate data systems in one screen. This “single presentation layer” then allows data to visually interact with other data in the dashboard even though the data could reside in different databases utilizing completely different technologies.
5. “Monitored at a glance” – The rich, chart-based visual display of dashboards allow the end user to quickly learn the story of the data. Unlike reports where users have to study and learn the data in the report, dashboards are designed to easily guide the user in their understanding of the data.
So, the next time you are in an elevator and are asked, “What can dashboards do for me?”, hopefully you will remember this post and easily educate your neighbor on the benefits of data visualization.
Trip Dixon, iDashboards