There is an old but relevant saying in business – You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
With modern business software, companies have access to a wealth of data, statistics and information. This information, if the systems are good, will be accurate and in real time. If you are having a management meeting or need to make decisions for your business, you could run a report from the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, accounting package or other business management systems. These reports will give you valuable information and useful insights into the various aspects of the business.
Although these platforms contain much valuable and important information, it is a bit wasted if it is only seen when requested for meetings. It would be far better if the data was constantly visible to management and other decision-makers at all times. You do not want to wait two weeks to realize that sales are way off target or deliveries are taking a week when they should be out in two days.
Before we go into more detail on the dashboards, let’s take a look at business intelligence.
Business Intelligence (BI) is the process of analyzing data and business information and making it available in a usable format. The data can come from all parts of the business or a single channel or department. In can also incorporate current data, historical data and predictive data. Data can be internal company information as well as external market data.
The intelligence is derived from simplifying the big data produced by an enterprise on a daily basis. Business intelligence will help management and end users identify threats and opportunities, provide direction for sales and marketing, streamline processes, and improve decision making. It includes both operational and strategic aspects of the business.
Business Intelligence Dashboards
All of this data and intelligence provides valuable information and insights but the true value is lost if it is not displayed in a user-friendly manner. This is where business intelligence dashboards are so effective.
A business intelligence dashboard gives you a visual representation of key information and strategic data. It allows users and management to see key performance indicators (KPIs) and other relevant business intelligence metrics at a glance.
It provides a customizable interface to display a snapshot of critical data for a department, channel or the business as a whole.
Sometimes called an enterprise dashboard, they can be web-based or driven by Excel, business intelligence software, accounting platforms, customer relationship management (CRM) or enterprise resources planning (ERP) software.
Although these dashboards are aimed primarily at the enterprise market, businesses of all sizes can benefit from them. They can also be used by all levels in the company and all departments as well as an overall dashboard for senior management and executives.
Types of Business Intelligence Dashboards
You can set up your dashboard however you want but there are three main types that are used:
These monitor business processes, generally for a specific department. They need to be fast and responsive to identify shortfalls and streamlines processes.
For senior management and executives to monitor enterprise metrics and KPIs.
To identify trends and gain insight into opportunities and threats as well as predict future outcomes.
The dashboard allows a direct and continuous view of critical data and intelligence. Some of the benefits include:
- Visual display of critical business data
- Data transparency
- Improved responsiveness
- Eliminates guesswork
- Identify and measure efficiencies and problem areas
- Correct negative trends
- Align strategies and organizational goals
- Faster than generating reports
- Improved decision making
- Real-time data
- Streamline operations
- Improved productivity
- Allows for continuous improvements
A good dashboard will give you a clear idea of where you are and where you are going.
Requirements for a good dashboard
A practical business intelligence dashboard will have the following features:
- Provide at a glance information
- Practical visualization
- Clear and uncluttered
- Alert notifications
- Accurate data source
Other aspects that are becoming increasingly popular are data that can be drilled down into for more information and dashboards that are available on mobile devices.
Good design principles
It is important to get the design right so that the data is clear, informative and easily understood. Here are a few principles to follow when creating or designing a dashboard:
Understand the purpose
The dashboard should have a clearly defined purpose and be aligned with the requirements of the user. Only once you are clear on the purpose of the dashboard can you start designing it.
Consider the audience
Understand who will be using the dashboard and how they will be seeing it. Consider what information is required and in how much detail.
Have the correct metrics in place
Know what metrics or KPIs you need to display as well as any relevant targets.
Don’t cram everything onto one page
With a dashboard, less is more. Cramming it will make it cluttered and make the information difficult to digest. Use tabs, filters or selection if necessary or create separate dashboards.
Use consistent colors
Do not overuse color and keep it consistent
Use the correct visualization
There are a number of visualization techniques that can be used. Select those that will tell a clear story at a glance. One can use:
- Bullet graphs
- Pie graphs
- Bar/column graphs
- Line graphs
- Spark lines
- Map charts
Keep it relevant and informative.
Keep it simple
The whole idea is that it can be viewed at a glance. Relevant information should immediately be visible without much effort. If the dashboard is too complex, the visualization will lose effect. It must be easy to navigate and understand and tell a story.
Use a logical layout
Put the more important information at the top or top left and group information by theme.
The context is not always obvious to all viewers and it is important to include context so the data paints a picture. This could be targets, expected outcomes, budgets or a comparison to previous periods. Add titles to the charts and name the axes. Without the context, the data could be meaningless or confusing.
Focus on the data first and then design. Remember that the design should not be cast in stone and should adapt and evolve over time.
Already, thanks mostly to business intelligence dashboards, many companies have become more responsive and agile. Instead of making corrections, changes and adjustments on a quarterly basis, they can take immediate action.
The dashboard will alert them immediately to opportunities, threats and inefficiencies. By making ongoing changes they can make continuous improvements. The real-time changes will make the company more agile and responsive leading to improved performance and increased profits.