How to Use Business Dashboards for Better information, Better Decisions

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At a time when increasingly sophisticated business intelligence tools have made it possible to gather large amounts of extremely detailed data, the ability to analyze that data and leverage it to make better-informed business decisions has generally not kept pace. With more information comes additional complexity and new challenges for managing and contextualizing that information. For a growing number of decision-makers in a wide variety of industries, the preferred solution to help bridge the data utilization gap is a popular technology tool: the dashboard.

A dashboard is a single-screen visual interface that integrates multiple data sources into an easy-to-read and comprehensible display. For decision-makers, the ability to have all of the real-time information they need in one place is a game-changer. A dashboard functions like a window into the churning gears and complex inner workings of an organization, delivering the clarity and conclusions that have become so elusive in today’s data-rich environments.

The signal and the noise
Perhaps the most significant advantage that dashboards can offer is the ability to separate mission-critical data from a blizzard of background information. Many of today’s businesses have various levels of complex data generated across different departments and in multiple locations throughout the company. Further complicating the situation is the fact that data is applied in different contexts and is relied on by multiple tiers of leadership roles. Therefore, an important first step is to decide what is the most important set of key performance indicators for a decision maker to have front and center on the dashboard, and then have extraneous details available through drill down.

In traditional data systems, it is all too easy for critical data to get lost, misinterpreted, or never viewed in the first place. Dashboards eliminate that problem. Using a potent combination of powerful data-gathering, synthesis and analysis, combined with proven data visualization techniques, dashboards present information that can yield valuable insights. Dashboards are the only tools that can be used at all levels of business management and provide businesses with all the information they need in a visually engaging, easy-to-read format. The result is increased efficiency, improved clarity, the ability to precisely identify where problems occur, and the opportunity for executives to drill down into specific aspects of their data to gain an understanding regarding key performance indicators. In the end, this helps lead to better decision-making capabilities that can enhance a company’s bottom line.

Best practices
The right dashboard solution can have a potentially dramatic impact on operational efficiency and business decision-making. Optimizing dashboard results requires adhering to the accepted best practices for designing and implementing a dashboard solution.

  • Prioritize your metrics A dashboard’s output will only ever be as good as its input. With that in mind, determining what kind of data and what specific metrics must be included in your dashboard becomes one of the first and most important decisions that need to be made when implementing a new system. Focus on including mission-critical information: the essential variables and critical data that define success for your company.
  • Accessibility and relevance Once you decide what information will be included in your dashboard, the next step is to determine who can access that information. You can provide separate dashboards with unique sets of information for team members with distinct roles or who are in different departments of the company. Generally speaking, executives and high-level decision-makers are going to want to have access to information conveying the big-picture, while managers and other operational professionals will benefit more from relevant data that impacts practical day-to-day details.
  • Clarity and comprehension An often over-looked aspect of designing an effective dashboard is striving to include metrics and information that strike a balance between meaningful detail and clarity/understanding. A high-level of granular detail is great, but without the ability to contextualize that information and understand what it means in the larger picture, more detail becomes a liability instead of an asset. One of the underlying aspects of dashboard tools is the way that they aggregate large volumes of data into an understandable snapshot. Dashboards should be easy to understand at a glance, and should be accessible and comprehensible to a diverse set of users at all levels – not just specialized analysts and data experts.
  • Powerful and flexible Effective dashboard solutions give you a compelling combination of power and flexibility, and are capable of total customization. If you are trying to determine what kind of dashboard solution is right for you, one of the foremost considerations is whether the technology can connect to, and synchronize with, all of the necessary data sources, and whether that information can be presented in a unique, interactive and visually-engaging way.

When properly used and designed, dashboards provide an enlightening view into an organization’s day-to-day operations. The insights that result have the potential to positively impact the bottom-line.