Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan
12Sep/110

The Secret Sauce of Engaging BI Dashboards

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Some pieces of music withstand the test of time because the message, lyrics, and melody work together in just the right way. You go back to some songs again and they become your old standbys – something you can rely on. It may seem strange to draw a parallel between music and dashboards, but think about it: a good corporate dashboard can be timeless too. We have customers who have been using the same dashboard for 5 years – it just continues to work for them. They chose the right metrics and display them in charts that clarify the data, and users find the dashboard engaging and useful even after many years, relying on it daily for information and insight. Your dashboard shouldn't be a one-hit wonder – a souped-up version of a static report. Let’s review 3 ways to take your old BI dashboard and make it an essential tool for users.

Think about the dashboards at your organization. Are they really just one step up from manually-generated reports, built to replace spreadsheets and briefing books for meetings? They probably provide answers to some of your executive team's questions, but maybe you've noticed that they have some major pitfalls, including a limited display of information and infrequent updates, and offer little ability to take analysis deeper or share insights with co-workers easily.

A corporate dashboard needs to be more than eye-candy. Decision-makers need a dashboard that drives performance by delivering the right information in a timely manner.

Dashboard Delivery
Let’s review that word I emphasized just now – delivering. The whole reason to upgrade your dashboards is so they'll be more widely used, right? Well times have changed and people aren’t just sitting at their desks all day. We use a phrase at arcplan – we say our product is "BI that does take-out and delivery." We proactively push information to users however they want to receive it. So think about that as a means to wider adoption – delivering data to users directly, on their schedule. Dashboards that have the ability to be scheduled and emailed to users in a variety of formats are almost guaranteed to be seen (and used). I may not have time to log into the corporate BI system every day, but I certainly check my email whether I’m in the office or not. Having my dashboard delivered to me at 9am every day has ensured that I see it daily. Thinking about how your users will consume your dashboard is key in the design process.

New Information
Getting back to the idea that some dashboards are simply a step up from a static report, how would your users see their dashboard if it actually presented new information? If it took data from multiple sources and produced mashups that give users a whole new range of capabilities likes sales and revenue analysis, with insight they've never had before? What if your dashboard actually performed rules-based, multi-step calculations that take raw data and make it useful? Users should see the dashboard then as a means to draw conclusions, make decisions, and take action. In this way, it will become an essential tool in their arsenal – one that provides information they can't get anywhere else.

Collaboration
Collaborative BI is is a growing trend that merges business intelligence and social media tools and amounts to business users determining what the most valuable and relevant data in their organization is and sharing it to improve decision-making across the board. We've covered this topic on our blog before, but what does it have to do with dashboards?

Can you make comments on your existing dashboards? Our clients can, and the information is stored in their database so the comments are seen, retained and tracked. This is one way to encourage collaboration among BI dashboard users – to allow them the ability to input their questions and explanations right into the system. Another way is to allow dashboards to be searched, rated, tagged, annotated and shared.

Maybe you have hundreds of reports and dashboards in your organization. Who knows what is actually useful in that list? Who knows how many times work has been duplicated because users couldn’t find existing information? In a couple of days, you can make your BI systems searchable and in time, the most useful dashboards will be rated highest by users, with comments about how to improve them further.

What better way to encourage dashboard adoption (and BI adoption in general) than to encourage user feedback and actually listen?

You can create dashboards with staying power! It starts with asking users how they want to consume information, presenting them with essential data they can’t easily get anywhere else, and offering them a way to collaborate with other users and provide feedback about the data. These 3 ideas are part of the secret sauce of the most successful dashboards we've seen. Do you have other elements that have worked at your organization?

Monique Morgan

About Monique Morgan

I'm the Marketing Project Manager at arcplan and work out of our Wayne, PA office. I'm originally from Jamaica but came to the US for college and I've been here ever since. I'm the voice behind a lot of arcplan's videos on YouTube - check them out here: http://www.youtube.com/arcplan.
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