What are dashboards?
Dashboards are a group of data visualizations that use a combination of reports, charts, and graphs to track multiple business metrics at once. They allow users to analyze data quickly and easily, customize what sort of information they want to see, and share data easily with others.
Think of a dashboard in a car. It has many different dials, gauges, and meters that help the driver know how the car is performing in real time. Without the tools on the dashboard, a driver would never know when to get gas, how fast they’re driving, or if their engine is overheating.
A BI dashboard is just like that, but for a business. It lets managers and employees know how they’re performing in real time. Just as a driver uses the information from their dashboard to operate their car effectively, businesses can use their dashboards to improve their operations.
A marketing dashboard in Sisense.
Dashboards are quickly becoming one of the most popular applications of BI software. Instead of having to search through dozens of different spreadsheets and applications to find data—and then spend even more time analyzing it—dashboards let users view all the information they need in one place, saving massive amounts of time and work.
What features should dashboarding software have?
It’s impossible to build useful dashboards with software that lacks important dashboard functionality. BI tools with dashboarding tools often have these features:
Real-time updating. The most important feature of a dashboard is its ability to update in real time. Users can see changes and react to them as they happen, instead of waiting for the data to refresh periodically or having to update the data manually.
Customizability. BI tools usually allow users to create their own dashboards and change them however they see fit. Users can change the style of data visualizations, rearrange metrics on the page to prioritize important information, and even add and delete data sources entirely.
Permissions should also be customizable. For a dashboard that every employee has access to, it’s a good idea to limit editing permissions to just a few trusted users. In other situations, it might be more useful to allow as much collaboration as possible.
KPI visibility. It’s important that dashboards show KPIs, or key performance indicators. By tracking KPIs in real time, businesses can spot issues and solve problems quickly. It’s also important for benchmarking; managers can make projected goals very clear in user dashboards so that employees can see in real time how they measure up.
Tracking KPIs with a dashboard from Toucan Toco.
Interactivity. It should be simple to interact with data visualizations. Sometimes, users may need more information about a certain data set. Other times, it might be necessary to change the source for a visualization quickly. Dashboards shouldn’t be static pages, but tools that can be adapted to fit multiple uses.
The more data visualizations a dashboarding tool has, the better. Not only do the best dashboarding tools have common visualizations like graphs, charts, and tables, but they also have more exotic styles like Gantt charts, waterfall charts, maps, histograms, mekko charts, kanban boards, and treemaps.
Notifications and alerts. Dashboards can be configured to send out alerts if a metric changes in a way that’s unexpected. Most tools allow for notifications within the app plus automatic email or text notifications. Mobile apps can usually send out push notifications.
Cloud-based. As software moves to the cloud, it’s expected that dashboards should be available to view from any device anywhere, any time. Employees can do tasks that require the dashboard from anywhere with an Internet connection. It’s also expected that BI tools have some sort of mobile support so that users can work from a smartphone or tablet.
What's the benefit of using dashboards?
Dashboards help business users interact with data. Most employees at any given company don’t have years of data analysis experience. Dashboards help those employees communicate about data just as effectively as those with more expertise. Without dashboards and other BI tools, companies would have to rely on a small portion of their employees to interpret all of their data.
Dashboards increase visibility for key metrics. Employees work much better when they have clear goals and they understand how to achieve them. With dashboards, they can see how they’re doing in real time. Employees don’t have to just hope they’re on the right track, they can see exactly how they’re contributing to a project and how they can improve. If there’s a problem, they can solve it right away.
Dashboards help companies move faster. With traditional reporting, there’s always some sort of delay between the data collected and actual performance. With dashboards, it’s much easier to find trends, track performance, and get insights into how to improve. Businesses can hit the ground running and outperform slower competition.