What makes a BI dashboard or scorecard “bad?” After 20 years of working with more than 3,200 customers around the globe to create stellar BI applications, I’m certain we know the answer. On Wednesday, September 19th, arcplan’s Senior VP Dwight deVera will dissect real BI application examples that seem okay at first glance but in reality render great data ineffective. We’ll show you how to go beyond basic BI app design to make truly excellent, interactive dashboards and scorecards that facilitate decision-making.
This is our annual review of the latest thinking in BI app design and our most popular webinar – but totally revamped with more examples and practical how-to tips.
In this webinar, we’ll discuss:
- What should be avoided in modern BI dashboard & scorecard design
- Characteristics of successful BI applications
- How Metro Design & Responsive Design principles will affect design standards
- Tips for designing mobile dashboards
- The right chart types for your data – why some work and some don’t
- How to display data so that trends and problems pop
We’ll also leave time for a Q&A session at the end of the webinar.
Dashboards have been getting a lot of flack lately, especially in blog posts about why they’re pathetic or why you should hate them. I get it – dashboards have been a staple of business intelligence for decades and the concept hasn’t changed that much, so it must be time to disparage them. They’re no longer a hot topic. But that’s precisely why we need to keep the conversation around BI dashboards going. They’re not going away, but they can always be improved.
A well-designed dashboard with the right metrics will serve you for years. arcplan has customers who have been using the same dashboard for 5+ years. Why? Because it simply works (this also happens to be our company’s tagline!). I’m thinking specifically of one company whose dashboard isn’t flashy at all – in fact, it’s pretty boring looking – but it contains essential, revenue-driving metrics and sends alerts to trigger action based on specific thresholds.
Is that all it takes to create a lasting, functional BI dashboard? Not quite. Here’s a list of the top 10 keys to BI dashboard success, derived from arcplan’s nearly 20 years helping customers around the world design custom dashboards.
Your BI dashboards should be:
1) Personalized. Tailor your dashboard to the role of the user, designing it around metrics specific to the individual. You can see an example of this in the arcplan free trial. It gives you the option of logging into the application as a director of finance or director of sales and each individual dashboard displays metrics that matter to the particular user role.
2) Customized. Accommodate your users no matter where they are located. If you are designing dashboards to be used in the US & Europe, be sure that European users can view them with their particular language and currency settings (for example, displaying dollars as Euros and using periods instead of commas). Luckily with arcplan, those adjustments are a click away.
With trials for the 2012 Olympic Games in London almost complete, as a diehard trackie, I can’t help but reflect on the amazing standards that athletes must meet or exceed in order to qualify for their respective events. For instance, the “A” standard for the men’s 100 meter event is 10.18 seconds – that’s faster than the time it would take for many of us to boot up our computers. The standard for women’s high jump is 1.95 meters or about 6 feet, 4.7 inches – so an “A” standard athlete could easily clear the height of a very tall person. Olympic hopefuls work diligently to meet (or exceed) these high standards. Likewise, in a quest for excellence, we in the business intelligence world should strive to improve the design of our BI dashboards – the ones that guide our daily decision-making. We should be reviewing their effectiveness at least yearly. To that end, we’ve compiled a simple checklist to guide your dashboards towards the “A” standard.
Whittle them down to only the most relevant and timely information. With all the excitement around big data and the need to analyze vast amounts of information in order to spot trends, it’s easy to be swept away in a deluge of data and be distracted from what really matters. As excited as you (or the users you serve) may be to display all kinds of new information, remember that some data is a distraction rather than relevant to the decision-making process. So be cautious of the information overload that can hinder the effectiveness of your dashboards. Each organization must determine what really matters to decision-makers (this will vary between them) and center dashboards around the metrics most relevant to each department.
Implement appropriate design. When it comes to dashboards, looks do matter. But dashboards aren’t just eye candy. They’ve become a standard point of reference for business managers and executives who need to monitor company operations – often at a glance – in order to make timely decisions. In a 2011 interview with Dashboard Insight, Stephen Few, author of bestselling books on dashboard design and data visualization best practices (and also inventor of the bullet graph), explains…
If I had a penny for every time I heard the phrase ‘Rules are meant to be broken,’ I’d be rich. However, this cliché has no place in BI dashboard design. Having the right dashboard charts and graphs are essential to making your dashboard a useful resource. Your users may not be able to articulate it – since they may not know better – but your dashboard may be the victim of what we call a “chart foul.” Chart fouls can be detrimental to the usefulness of your dashboard because they indicate that data isn’t being presented the right way, or they mean that your chart type or data labels are confusing your users.
We’ve been building BI dashboards for the last 18 years for large and small companies. You can probably imagine the number of chart fouls we’ve come across. Today we’ve pooled our knowledge and present to you some pointers on major chart fouls to avoid:
1. Choosing the wrong chart type.
Have you ever seen a bar chart with more than 15 data sets? That’s a considerable amount of information to display horizontally, so chances are that the graph appeared very cluttered and was difficult to read. You’re better off displaying such information as a simple line graph. How about a radar graph showing the qualitative scores of potential hires? It’s just as confusing as it sounds (see below), and is probably not a good idea either. So in order to show ranking among candidates, a good old-fashioned table of numbers will do. Choosing the right graph or chart for your data is an art. You should select a graph that is easy to understand and is an appropriate representation of your data. In a previous post on Dashboard Charts & Graphs, we reviewed how to choose the best chart type for your BI dashboard.
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.
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.
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?