Five Factors of User-Friendly BI Dashboards

Why visualizations, ergonomics and other design choices are critical to dashboard adoption and success

Wayne, PA, USA / Langenfeld, Germany – January 16, 2013  Dashboards have been a staple of Business Intelligence (BI) solutions for decades. Despite the fact that dashboards are often an entry point for companies in their BI efforts, they have remained popular tools for monitoring company operations at a glance. Because of the limited space available on a single screen, the design and organization of dashboards has become a popular topic among designers striving to create the ideal intuitive management cockpit. International BI provider arcplan has identified five factors critical to the adoption and success of BI dashboards at any organization.

1. Comprehensibility
Speed is a basic business requirement for management. Therefore dashboards must provide information quickly and on one screen, which requires a clear, concise and organized design. Proper visualization choices make all the difference here. When selecting the charts that will display various key performance indicators (KPIs), it helps to use the similar graphical elements (consistent colors, filter selectors, etc.) and limit arbitrary embellishments (chart animation, 3D charts, etc.) unless it helps users understand the data better. Strive for the 1-5-30 rule with your management dashboards: after one second, the user should understand the chart’s purpose. Conclusions should form after five seconds. And after 30 seconds, the process of problem solving begins. 

2. Ergonomics
Ergonomic software – software designed according to the needs and abilities of the people working with it – raises productivity by saving workers time and reducing the possibility of errors, lowers stress by enhancing workers' concentration and lessening repetitive tasks, and saves money that would have otherwise been spent on training, documentation, and design changes. The perfect ergonomics for BI dashboards are achieved by following design principles that limit information to easily digestible amounts – a difficult task with today's larger screen sizes, which are now available up to 27 inches (approx. 69 cm) and tempt many designers to fill all of the available space with information. This, however, results in data that can no longer be easily digested and analyzed. The displayed information should therefore center on key figures and be intuitive enough for users to operate without training or long periods of familiarization. 

3. Context
Revenue of 1,000 euros – is that positive or negative? Values are frequently shown out of context and therefore their consequences are not immediately grasped by users. Using stoplight indicators or other symbols that clearly indicate whether values are good or bad give managers a clearer picture, empowering them to intervene where it matters to generate added value. Then there are the percentages, often used to show KPIs, which usually turn out to be a bad choice, since relative values allow too much room for misguided interpretation. 

4. Structure
Management cockpits generally show a maximum of three levels – one global and two in detail – which is enough since the goal is to display only relevant, highly condensed decision-supporting information. It must be presented concisely; large tables of figures or long paragraphs affect the dashboard’s adoption and continued use. Detailed information in text form distracts from the core message and slows down the process of at-a-glance analysis. "Keep it smart and simple" must be the motto here.

5. Mobility 
Managers are mobile and depend on information they can call up wherever they are on an ad-hoc basis. Nowadays, BI dashboards simply have to be accessible on a variety of end devices and screen sizes to suit smartphones and tablets. The key here is Responsive Design, which is a design concept that enables applications to detect the user's device  automatically and adjust the formatting to fit the screen size and orientation. In this way, the user interface and the information it contains are perfectly coordinated and easy to use regardless of the user's choice of device.

"BI dashboards supply up-to-the-minute financial and business figures that are critical to the decision-making process, and ultimately to corporate success. To ensure that users understand this information and can act on it, it must be displayed in a clear and structured manner," says Achim Röhe, VP Professional Services EMEA at arcplan. "Optimizing these five factors virtually guarantees a successful dashboard."

About arcplan
arcplan is a leader in innovative Business Intelligence, Dashboard, Corporate Performance and Planning software solutions for desktop and mobile use.  Since 1993, arcplan has enabled more than 3,200 customers worldwide to leverage their existing infrastructure for better decision making. Empowering all users to connect and collaborate with relevant information is crucial for improving business performance. With arcplan – it simply works.

arcplan's flagship product arcplan Enterprise® was rated the #1 3rd party tool for SAP BW, Oracle Essbase, and IBM Cognos TM1 in The BI Survey 12 (2012).

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