For a small business, amassing and analyzing this data is a relatively easy task. However, for global organizations that serve upwards of millions of customers and support thousands of customer interactions on a daily basis, accurately pinpointing trends, behavior shifts or forecasting sales figures is much more challenging.
While deploying a business intelligence and analytics solution within the organization is often the best first step, an effective data strategy is only as good as the way the data is presented.
Dashboards are often leveraged within an enterprise to not only present a requested snapshot of accurate data, but also to provide the data in a visually appealing manner, which helps businesses analyze volumes of data from several months or even years.
However, an informative dashboard is much like the white alligator – they certainly exist, but finding one is an extremely rare occasion.
The critical elements of designing a dashboard are presenting data in a visually appealing way and enabling the users to customize their parameters, all while delivering thorough context around the data, including the depth, breadth and accuracy of the information. Additionally, business data needs to be presented with context and also delivered in a way that allows employees to visualize the conclusion and immediately take action that contributes to the bottom line.
Gathering and presenting this intelligence is not easy. This article will address how to design an effective dashboard that enables organizations to make more informed business decisions, improve solutions and allocate business resources to enhance the customer’s experience.
Displaying the Data
Dashboards can quickly balance the delivery of historical, real time and even predictive data. That said, the importance of certain sets of information varies depending on the established key performance indicators. While one department may value historical data, another department may need immediate access to current information in order to make actionable decisions.
Established KPIs should be appropriate and valuable for business goals, as well as fit the needs of each user, including the customer. Since KPIs are metrics connected to targets, context is everything. Displaying the data and comparing sets of information can underline how an employee, team or department is performing against prior performance, organization goals and customer feedback. Additionally, the ability to quickly visualize the condition of the KPIs can help users identify and fix any issues, be they internal, product or customerrelated.
If too many metrics are shown, the page can become cluttered and cloud the users’ ability to draw clear conclusions. However, presenting the data in a way that is tied to corporate, team and individual objectives can enable each employee to make more data-driven decisions and also enhance productivity.
Choosing the Data
Even if a company has only been around for a few years, the business probably already contains enough data to overwhelm even the brightest analysts. Since many organizations have been around for more than a few years, choosing the data to display within a dashboard can be more daunting than pulling or even analyzing the information.
While the priorities for each organization are vastly different, it’s critical to get in the mindset of the employees to best determine which information to display.
Asking the following questions can help narrow the range of data to be displayed:
- Why would employees need to visit the dashboard?
- How often would employees utilize the dashboard?
- What types of data would be pulled the most?
- What kinds of decisions will the employee be making once they have said information?
- With whom will the employee be sharing the data (i.e., customers, partners and/or internal audiences)?
By answering these questions, businesses can identify what data needs to be included, outline their business priorities for the dashboard and identify the audiences that will see this information. Gearing information delivery toward decision-making, instead of reporting for reporting’s sake, will ensure its value.
Designing the Data
Visually displaying the data is a delicate balancing act. For example, employees should be able to drill down into the tiniest details, but also shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the volume of data. The ability to interact and customize the dashboard will allow employees to clarify and expand the context. Too many personalization capabilities can defeat the purpose of the dashboard and can begin to turn employees into analysts.
The ultimate goal of the dashboard is to highlight KPIs through visual data representations and support these images with the ability to provide context, be it additional visuals, drill downs or other methods. Ideally, employees should be able to fire up a dashboard and quickly make observations and conclusions, without scrolling, drilling or even leaving the initial start screen.
Designing a dashboard places a great deal of emphasis on the visual layout. The trick is to highlight just the right amount of data in the most efficient way to avoid information overload and to prompt action. Regardless of how flashy or cool a certain design or color scheme may be, data clarity should always win over embellishment.
Additionally, dashboards that take a more minimalist design are effective because they clearly communicate the important metrics, rather than ancillary information.
- Color – Leverage color to highlight sets of data or underline what data needs to be grouped together. Bright and subtle colors can be used in myriad ways, and the hue of each specific color should be considered individually as well as within context of other colors. As mentioned above, avoid using color simply as decoration.
- Branding – While branding a dashboard is important to maintain ownership of the data, especially if the information is being shared with external audiences, eliminate any branding that distracts the user from drawing conclusions from the dashboard.
- Dashboard format – Aim to include all necessary data on one page, or the size of one screen. In addition to color, use varying shapes to highlight specific sets of data or to make some information jump out to the user.
- Data format – Line charts, bar graphs, pie charts and gauges help convey important data trends. However, these visualizations convey only select parts of the story; extra elements, such as extra grid lines and 3D bars, can be more distracting than productive.
- Workflow organization – Consider how employees and other users will interact with the dashboard and embed this expected workflow accordingly.. Place data, objects and shapes so the information can be analyzed from the top left to the bottom right.
The dashboard must be more than just luxury; it must provide accurate, real-time data, which can lead to actionable intelligence and insight into decision-making.
The data displayed needs to be frequently updated and match how employees access information. In addition to eliminating outdated data, the dashboard design and KPIs need to be adjusted as the goals of the business change.
The data should also become more detailed and granular toward the bottom of the dashboard. Ideally, data values should be presented in a way that easily illustrates where there were significant changes during a certain period of time.
Being able to understand the breadth, depth and accuracy of information sets provides users with the context to make observations of trends and draw conclusions. Efficient design will lead the employee through the workflow of the dashboard.
The level of context a dashboard provides depends on the level of data interactions and personalization. For example, more interactive dashboards can help reduce the need to jam several images into one dashboard, enabling users to pull up specific sets of data when needed. The following interactive features can be included to give users the ability to easily customize their dashboard based on metrics, elements and additional filters:
- Drill downs
Another interesting way to make a dashboard interactive is to set multiple “views” of one dashboard, showing different data based on user. For example, you can set up a single dashboard for sales reps that only shows the rep their own data, but directors can see all data.
Incorporating sharing and collaboration tools within the dashboard allows the information to quickly travel among specific audiences and easily extends the value of the data. Enabling the dashboard to be quickly shared via email, internal social networks, customer relationship management systems or even within external networks can be an easy way for businesses to communicate conclusions with several audiences, while still maintaining the integrity of the data. Also the dashboard can be extended to mobile or tablet devices. While there are many different creative avenues businesses can take when it comes to dashboards, it’s important to keep in mind that designing dashboards is hard. Identifying the types of data included within the dashboard, establishing the goals around a dashboard and then determining how this intelligence is presented can be a daunting task, regardless of the sophisticated tools available to the user.
Despite these challenges, visually compiling a huge amount of data from disparate sources in a way that makes sense and gives it value is one of the best ways to support business goals and identify how the organization can enhance its customer experience. Dashboards are the most effective ways to establish a line of communication between the organization and its partners and customers. By keeping the dashboard uncluttered while still providing a comprehensive, intelligence-rich snapshot of the business information, employees will gain the context to make data-driven decisions and improve the customer experience.
David Toliver is the Director of Corporate Marketing at Angel. Check out his blog here.