Big data. That’s undoubtedly the buzz word of this decade. It is used to refer to the mountains of data, often disparate, that today’s Internet enabled devices and systems are able collect.
As the volume of data in organizations rises, the adoption of business dashboards has become inevitable as companies try to organize data into bite sized chunks which they can use for smart decision making and to make policy adjustments.
When organizations are able to configure and deploy dashboards across the organization, they become indispensable tools and actually work to their advantage in a competitive environment.
When implemented incorrectly, the organization fails to appreciate the immense benefits of business dashboards and views them as little more than nice visuals for use during staff meetings. Often, when this happens, the business is missing some (or all) important aspects of a business dashboard.
The following are three essential aspects of a business dashboard that must be present to derive the full benefits.
1. The Underlying Data
There is an old computing saying that was popular in 1980s and still holds true today. Garbage in, garbage out. A dashboard is only as good as its underlying data. And here, we aren’t just talking about quality.
In addition to the quality of data, there is also the issue of making a dashboard that relies on manual data updates. This is a big mistake because it becomes an enormous drain on time and also leads to errors. Errors are introduced through human fatigue. The results can be devastating to the organization. To remedy this, the data feed must be automated.
The second thing is failure to include data from several different sources and only using one aspect of the organization’s data. An effective dashboard must have a complete view of data; there shouldn’t be any grey areas.
The next step is the visual display. There are three vital aspects to consider:
- Actionable metrics – only include data that is actionable. Many organizations clutter their dashboards with so much information, little of which is actionable. This is done to wow the audience during meetings but is of little value. Only metrics that can help make a decision should be included. If you currently have a dashboard that looks like the cockpit of a Boeing, consider trimming it down to the bare essential metrics needed to make a decision.
- Organization – the second thing with presentation is how it’s organized. Dashboards are about simplicity. All aspects of the organization should be clear to anyone reading the dashboard. Also, keep to the golden rule of dashboards; it should fit on one page. If it doesn’t, it’s no longer a dashboard but a report. If you truly need more than one screen/page to present your key metrics, then consider using a tabbed dashboard to segment the different kinds of metrics you want to present.
- Customize – the third and final bit about presentation is that users should be able to organize the same data differently. Hence, a user should for example be able to sort and filter as well as view different time periods.
The final aspect of a business dashboard is the delivery. How will people access the dashboard? This depends on your business and goals but a few general points include:
- Don’t restrict to a desktop – despite the proliferation of many different types of hardware, it is interesting to note that some companies still create applications that are only accessible via desktop. For your dashboard to truly have great impact, consider making it accessible via smartphones and tablets. People should be able to access the dashboard anywhere, at any time and using any Internet enable device.
- Don’t restrict to a Screen – Sounds contradictory? It isn’t, the point here is that there should be intelligent alerts built into the dashboard that notify someone or the entire team when, for example, a key milestone has been reached or not reached. The alert could be an SMS or email alert. You can even be more creative and have the sound of an overflying plane play across the office once a milestone has been or an alarm bell if the milestone has been missed. This keeps everyone focused on the goals.
Dashboards are an important decision making tool for business. Organizations that have set them up and used them correctly swear in their ability to keep everyone focused on the key performance indicators and to deliver impressive bottom line results.