Business Tips | Dashboards and Data Viz | Data Strategy | iDashboards Products | Tips & Tricks

You’ve got the data, you’re pulling reports; but like many other businesses and organizations alike, you may find your team is asking the question, “How are we using our data?” While this is the right question to ask, teams should always take the time to go beyond the literal denotation of the word ‘use’.

When businesses talk about using data, it’s more than just the platforms in place and the processes in action. It’s also about the people, the plans, the (data) preparation – and most importantly, the purpose. Defining and outlining a tangible strategy for your data establishes value that can carry your business forward with greater intent and focus.

That leads to the following – what strategic purpose does your data serve to:

  • Support who is accessing it
  • Ensure the right problems are being solved
  • Empower business continuity through unforeseen challenges
  • Deliver on metrics that align with industry & department goals
  • Improve data literacy across the entire organization
  • Mitigate oversight by not having a complete picture of the information being collected

Even if you currently have tools and solutions in place, re-evaluate their effectiveness in achieving the list above. To be conscious of the problem(s) in your data, inaction can often be the greatest threat to awareness for businesses.

Whether or not a business dashboard solution, or an overarching business intelligence platform, falls under that category of currently existing within your organization, it begs the same question as before – How are you using/How can you use them? The most critical piece of a dashboard implementation is figuring how dashboards can deliver the most value to your business.

If you’re new to the dashboard world, follow along as we go over our step-by-step guide for determining how dashboards are best suited for your business. If dashboards are already implemented in your organization, it’s not too late to break these down as they pertain to your current situation:

Step 1 – Pinpoint your Intent

As it is with finding any platform for your business, the initial search process can often be the most time-consuming stage, but often the most pivotal for setting your business up for success. Let’s start with a common circumstance for most – one of your employees/colleagues is searching for a business dashboard solution.

Whenever we seek out a solution to anything, it’s rooted by a distinct purpose; whether it be to solve a problem, clarify and expand on our level of knowledge, to seek benefits of implementing/risks of foregoing, or perhaps to answer any outlying questions.

To provide some frame of mind, below are various industry or department-focused examples for these types of intent:

  • Solve a problem
    • Inventory needs to be tracked at multiple plant locations
    • Timely reporting and lack of accurate data is being shared with Board of Directors
  • Clarify or expand knowledge
    • Project management wants to better understand the real costs vs. projected costs
    • Marketing is hoping to dig deeper into audience metrics for campaign strategies
  • Seek benefits of implementing/risks of foregoing
    • Looking to improve on customer communication relationships for cross-departmental activities
    • A team is interested in how much more efficient decision-making can be across operations
  • Answer outlying questions
    • Which KPIs should be used & how should they be measured to monitor student performance/quality of patient care/program impact
    • What must be in place to properly connect/combine data sources into one platform?

Hands raised to ask questions, importance of asking critical business and data-driven questions

Once the intent is defined and clearly laid out, it becomes easier to assess the bandwidth of the team for taking appropriate steps towards implementation. That being said, the next factor to consider is whether the employee in search for dashboards is on their own or has support from leadership and decision-makers. If there is a consensus from others on the need for a data solution or better data governance organization-wide, the barriers to entry will be a bit more feasible to tackle than an individual still seeking leadership buy-in.

Step 2 – Define your software requirements in terms of dashboarding

Now that you’ve set the framework for why a business dashboard solution is imperative and assessed how your organization can embrace the change, you can now move towards the what of dashboarding. Categorizing both what is necessary and what is growth-accelerating will help streamline the process for determining exactly what you need out of your dashboards before getting overwhelmed by a solution at large. It’s easier to proactively set your goals and adjust accordingly as time goes on than to dive in head first and try to take on every possibility and opportunity of the software all at once.

One way to think through this is with the help of a weighted decision matrix. Accurately weigh the different factors a dashboard solution brings to the table by going through the components that make up that specific factor and 1) placing a level of importance on each and 2) deciphering between whether they are a necessity vs. additive value.

Some factors and their respective components include:

  • Features: The features you need should provide a foundation of data quality that upholds standards of accuracy, timeliness, integrity, consistency, and relevancy. They should also enable further exploration into your metrics that allow your team to discover new insights that would otherwise go overlooked without dashboards in place. With dashboard features, it’s important to have a balance of those that will bring out the most of your existing data while also providing opportunities your team can capitalize on.
    • Drilldowns
    • Filtering
    • Chart & Graph options and customizations
    • Presentation models
    • Mobile-friendly
    • Drag & Drop Design
    • Real-time alerts and reports
    • ETL capabilities
    • Sharing options: embed on web page, browser, LCD display, mobile
    • Incorporate applications
  • Ease of use: Depending on the features you prioritize, the advanced functions they may require can play a role into the factor of ease of use. Some other components of usability to consider when deciding how dashboards are best suited for your business are:
    • Centralized vs decentralized analytics make up your current system
    • The type of learning curve that aligns best with both the skillsets of who will be implementing and who will be using dashboards – what level of knowledge do you want various employees to have going in/achieve with the solution itself? Should data stewards and/or business users steer the implementation?
    • Internal and external audience needs – What kind of KPIs need to be easily accessible and understood visually by other team members, stakeholders and other public viewers, if any?

Data Scientist Business User Looking at Solving Data Problem with Dashboard

  • Integrations: This factor is straightforward – where are data silos hindering your business the most? What data connections take top priority that can benefit most from real-time dashboards? While eventually having all your data sources combined and talking to each other is a fundamental piece to having business dashboards, it’s best to start with those that rely on consistent reporting, new insights, and complete understanding for critical decision-making. For example:
    • Web Applications
    • Data Warehouses
    • Files
    • CRMs
    • ERPs

View of the earth and lights, symbol for all the data connections and integrations around the world

  • Growth potential: Where do you see your business headed vs. where do you want to see your business go? Although this factor of growth potential can be influenced by various uncontrollable external circumstances, it also relies heavily on the commitment of your team to bring data into the daily conversation. Depending on your long term goals, the different components below that can lead to growth may weigh heavier than others:
    • Run more data-driven meetings for greater productivity
    • Mitigate risk through automatic updates and live alerts
    • Save time for innovative initiatives by improving operational efficiency
    • Empower new hires and young professionals with adequate data skills
    • Prepare your team to be adaptive and proactive rather than reactiveBusiness Man going up stairs, thinking about Business growth potential
  • Number of users: Every organization is different in terms of size and scope. Therefore, who and of what quantity views/interacts with/builds dashboards is variable to how necessary this factor is for success from start to finish. Take into consideration the following and which holds the most weight:
    • Expected challenges & overhaul of your data work that needs more hands on deck
    • Preferred diffusion of knowledge between users and who can be trained later
    • The need for strict data governance
    • Having departments that are resourceful and learn from the same starting point

Data scientist or Business user analyzing data sitting at table with mask on

  • Pricing: This is typically a top priority factor for any business given how important it is to get the most worth out of your dashboards. At this point, you’ve identified a dashboard solution, pricing will be broken down by components such as # of users, additional features, company size, & other custom needs – think critically about what makes most sense within your budget and how the other factors line up. Determine whether you want the software to grow with your implementation. Your vendor can be flexible in how they structure your contract to makes for your short and long-term needs.

Step 3 – Select the most APPROPIATE initiative first

The quickest step, but the hardest to make. Now that we’ve narrowed intent, broken down priorities for what dashboards should mean for your business longevity, and have assessed the list of factors that go into a dashboard solution, it’s time to decide how to get started. Select the most appropriate initiatives that will go towards supporting the overall data strategy described above. To clarify what we mean by appropriate, we mean in terms of data structure, impact, and replication. Your first dashboard should be one that outlines a data blueprint for your team. This data blueprint will allow your data resources to provide what the data needs to look like for your dashboarding application. Second, the first dashboard needs to be impactful. You need to determine the absolute baseline metrics that make up your business and align with the intent that was defined in step 1. This may likely be departmental, so think in terms of big picture according to role. For a simple example, if you are an HR Manager tasked with dashboarding, then you probably want to start with a HR Baseline Metric Dashboard not an Executive-Level Dashboard. Lastly, your appropriate dashboard should be replicated. People like consistency and patterns so be sure to stick with that in your dashboards. Don’t make one dashboard a certain theme and your next one completely different. Your dashboards should have an overall theme according to their objective and be an accurate visual representation of your data through charts and graphs. Now that you’ve got the toolbox, it’s time to start drilling down to what matters. The key is to start somewhere so you can leverage dashboards in a way that truly is best suited to YOUR business.

To learn more about best practices, check out our Ultimate Guide to Dashboard Best Practices.

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Corey Swink Sr. Account Manager @iDashboards

Corey Swink started with iDashboards in November of 2016 and is responsible for new business development. Prior to working at iDashboards, Corey worked for an IT staffing firm and a digital marketing agency. His favorite activity, other than talking about data visualization, is Sunday morning Detroit Lions' tailgates.


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