Decision-makers depend on insightful charts and graphs to help them make fast, accurate decisions. “Insightful” charts and graphs are easy to read and understand and are the right design for your data. The wrong chart type can throw everything off and make your dashboard unusable. For example, while pie charts are most often used to display the share or percentage of a total, they’re not good for comparing the relationship between two variables – a scatter chart is better for that. While bar charts are good for comparison, if you want to compare many categories of data over time, go with a line chart.
Are you tasked with creating the dashboards that are used every day at your organization? As dashboard experts, let’s take a look at a few practical examples of why certain charts are better suited to display certain types of data versus others. If you find this article useful, be sure to view our webinar recording Scorecard & Dashboard Development: A Detailed How-To, where you’ll get more practical tips to create interactive, “go-to” dashboards.
Sales data for the year may be best displayed on a bullet graph. This type of graph displays a fair amount of data in a small space, compares measures to enrich its meaning, and is generally a simple, uncluttered visual representation of data. With a bullet graph, the budgeted sales amount for the year is represented by the entire length of the bar; the actual value is represented by the thin bar in the forefront (blue on the sales bullet graph). The shaded grey areas (in our image) represent the values “poor,” “satisfactory,” and “good.” In our image, the sales data is satisfactory, approaching good. Stacking bullet graphs allows the user to compare values with ease – here, sales vs. costs. A bullet graph would even work well as a desktop widget since it can showcase an important KPI in a simple, space-efficient format.
Would a bar chart work for this same data?
A bullet chart is actually a variation of a bar chart. Even though bar charts are useful for comparing data as well, for our sales example, it may not be your best option. With a bar chart, you’d need to have 2 columns per month – one for actual and one for the target/budgeted amount. Alternatively, you could use a stacked bar chart, but that is basically what we have here with the bullet graph, only with even more data than a stacked bar chart typically offers. Because it would be difficult to track your progress over time, a standard bar chart isn’t the most efficient chart type for sales actual vs. budget data.
Candlestick Charts vs. Bubble Charts
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.
Who really benefits from mobile BI?
There’s no denying the cool factor of whipping out your iPad to show your client a demo when you’re out for coffee. And there’s no doubt that mobile devices also come in handy for managers who need to check KPIs and track expenses en route to their next meeting. A recent article by the Gartner Research Group acknowledges the growing prevalence of mobile BI in the corporate world, stating that by 2013, 33% of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices (Predicts 2011: New Relationships Will Change BI and Analytics). But when devising a mobile BI strategy for your company, consider this: will your users see real value from being able to take action on business data 24/7 or are you just providing a nice toy for individuals who can efficiently do their work behind a desk?
In all likelihood, your accounting manager and research analyst, who spend 95% of their working time behind a desk, do not need mobile BI. The task of a research analyst, for instance, may include reviewing large amounts of data and using data management techniques to analyze and report on results. A job like this requires a decent size monitor (maybe 2!) and a powerful computer with a good amount of RAM. The daily tasks of our researcher do not translate well to a mobile device; a tablet would just be a business toy for him or her. So in the interest of minimizing upfront expenses for company-wide mobile BI deployment, consider the way that people work and realize that mobile BI may not be necessary for every member of your staff.
As the term implies, mobile BI is most useful for folks who are, well, mobile: executives traveling to meetings, sales managers visiting clients, or production managers who need to review and update data while on the plant floor. These users will get the most value from mobile BI because the tasks they’ll be using it for are quick (like reviewing a client’s purchases last year on the way to a meeting with them) and likely time-sensitive. These are ideal tasks for mobile BI. Why?