Dashboards are like snowflakes: I don't think I've ever seen two enterprises with identical dashboard designs. Which isn't a bad thing. Dashboards should be tailored to your organization's identity and the way your employees work. We have a client in the auto industry whose dashboards look like the, well, dashboard of a car – full of speedometers and gauges. We have other clients who like to deploy their BI dashboards in SharePoint because that's where they house all of their corporate information. But the business intelligence dashboards our clients create have a few things in common that I consider best practices:
1) They incorporate data from more than 1 source.
I'm betting that not all of your data sits in the same location. You'll only get a holistic view of your organization's performance if you're integrating data from various sources. Whether it's ERP + sales data, or marketing data + finance data, or Essbase data + SQL Server data, your dashboards need to support fast, easy integration of your various data sources.
Best practice BI dashboards pull data from internal and external sources (when necessary) to create entirely new views of performance. We have clients integrating data from Standard & Poor's with their accounts receivable information to match up delinquent clients with their S&P credit rating. We have insurance companies putting claims data on top of Google Maps. And we work with several enterprises that are integrating product revenues from their financial system with Salesforce.com customer data. These are examples of mashups – web applications that make existing data more useful – and they're extremely helpful on performance dashboards, even if only for quarter-long tactical analysis.
Dashboards are for busy people who can't dig deep every day to spot issues. Your dashboard might benefit from incorporating stoplight indicators that tell users if data is entering into dangerous territory without having to drill down. In arcplan, thresholds can be set separately for each KPI – meaning you set when the light shows up green, yellow, and red, giving users a quick visual cue that focuses them on the areas that need attention.
3) They're easy to use.
What makes a dashboard easy to use? Think about your favorite websites. They probably all have simple navigation that makes it easy to get from one section to another without much thought. Dashboards should operate similarly, meaning they need simple, clear options for filtering and drill-down, both globally (filters for the entire dashboard, i.e. all charts should show me the results YTD) and locally (filters for each chart, i.e. this graph should show me the results from last month, but the rest of the dashboard should show me the results YTD).
In addition, your dashboards should have easy options for export, because it's likely that not everyone who needs to see the data has access to it or you may want to include the dashboard in a presentation or report. Options for export to PDF, PowerPoint, and Excel are essential.
4) They are attractive.
Let's be honest - no one wants to use an ugly dashboard. We have all had to use them in the past, but BI has made great advances in the past several years, particularly in the look of dashboards. So while it might seem insignificant for your dashboard to have 3D charts and animation, your users just might need these extra features for your dashboard to become a "must view" every day.
Are all of these best practices easy to talk about, but not easy to put into practice? We don't think so. Today's BI dashboard tools allow users to create dashboards with drag-and-drop functionality, meaning no programming is required. They include formulas that simply the complex math and allow data from any source to interact with each other.
Want to learn more about the latest thinking in dashboard design and see examples of dashboards you can emulate? I've got 2 action items for you:
1) View the recording of our most popular webinar, More Dash Less Bored, to get practical tips for creating interactive, go-to dashboards.
2) Download the arcplan Enterprise Free Trial. Even if you're not an expert dashboard designer, this trial teaches you how to begin creating dashboards with your own data. You can also experience a modern, highly interactive dashboarding application, included in the trial.
What are your BI dashboard best practices?