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Wikipedia defines business intelligence dashboard as “An easy to read, often single page, real-time user interface, showing a graphical presentation of the current status (snapshot) and historical trends of an organization’s key performance indicators (KPIs) to enable instantaneous and informed decisions to be made at a glance. “

BI dashboards consolidate and arrange information from your source data on a single screen in an easy to read format. This can be compared to a car dashboard where in you are able to view a variety of information at a single glance. For eg: Speed, the total miles, RPM, Fuel, temperature, oil levels and maybe more depending on the model of the car. That is a whole lot of information, but is easily viewed at a single glance of the dashboard. So also in businesses, a BI dashboard is meant to provide users with a variety of critical information at a single glance. Occasionally performance score cards are also included on the dashboard on the same single screen.

Dashboards can be custom built for a specific role and display metrics for a specific department or even consolidated at a more macro level. The best part about dashboards is that each user can have his or her own dashboard and customize it to their personal preference. Managers are not forced to view their reports in a format they don’t much understand.

Of course that largely depends on the ease of use of the BI solution. One of the essential features of a good BI solution is its ability to provide an easy to use drag and drop interface for users to build their dashboards and the ability to pull real-time data from multiple sources.

BI Dashboard and Performance Scorecards Are Not The Same:

Often time’s BI dashboards and Scorecards are interchanged or combined together during the course of conversations. They are two very different solutions. A dashboard indicates the status of the business at a given point in time, much like the dashboard of a car whereas a scorecard indicates the company’s progress over time towards specific goals. It is definitely possible to have both indicators display on the one screen, but they are two different indicators. One is a dashboard and the other is a scorecard.

Business dashboards are becoming the preferred method of reporting for most middle management and top management executives. And why not? Dashboards are easy to read, gives a whole lot of valuable insights and saves time. What would otherwise take a day or more, only takes a few seconds with cleverly built dashboards.

Why Dashboards?

With the source data becoming more and more complex and ever increasing in size, the accounts and finance staff find it really stressful getting meaningful reports. Often times, the report data is not consistent with the source data. For eg: The sales figures displayed within the ERP system is different to the sales figures exported out into the reports. Such situations take up an incredible amount of time. The dirty data needs to be identified, corrected and synchronised. Thereafter, another whole day or more is spent creating and formatting the final report. This is just for one report. Now consider the report requests coming from 10 different department heads, all of which are urgent.

Now consider individual dashboards setup for each department head. The accounts and finance staff need to focus on just one thing. “The source data be kept clean”. Ensure the source data in the main ERP system is clean and reliable and there won’t be too many requests from department heads. Their own personal dashboards will refresh and present them with live information at any given point in time, enabling them to make intelligent “evidence based” decisions.

And if you are using a self-service BI tool such as Board, you can even simply drag and drop a Dataview block on to your screen and very quickly obtain reports, comparisons or forecasts in a matter of minutes as opposed to days.

Things Not To Do Whilst Building Your Dashboard:

Most users get carried away with the visual presentation of data and try to insert a whole lot of information on one dashboard. For eg: Users sometimes have financial information on the left of the screen, sales information on the right, inventory levels at the bottom, HR information squeezed in somewhere and if there is any further need, they just scroll down the screen and add another chart. This can make the dashboard too cluttered and even affect performance at times. For better understanding, try to look at a car dashboard and then at a plane cockpit.

It is much better to classify the information required into departments and have different dashboards for each. Its wiser to have several department level dashboards, all of which are easily accessible on screens with a single click of the mouse.

Most BI tools allow you to create multiple tabs within your visual screen and each tab can be a custom built dashboard. For eg: you could have a Sales dashboard on one screen, a financial dashboard on another, a inventory dashboard on another and so on.

A good practice is to ensure you try your very best not to have to scroll down when building your dashboards. Treat your screen as the max size of your canvas. Try not to exceed your canvas and you should be fine.

There are plenty of good resources available at Amazon if you’d like to know more about Dashboards. Check them out here.


Santosh Chandran is the Business Development Manager for BOARD Management Intelligence at Olympic Software. He regularly blogs about business intelligence and corporate performance management. You can follow him on Twitter  or on LinkedIn.  Please contact him directly if you would like to find out how BOARD can improve your business results through better decision making, phone 09 980 3964 or email: santoshc@olympic.co.nz