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Dashboards: The New Face of Reporting


A subtle yet important difference lies between reporting and a report. While reporting connotes the gathering of textual and numeric data, a report is a representation of this information. For example, with regard to a manufacturing company that gathers an array of information about its supply chain, a report would be generated as a spreadsheet encompassing data collected by the different relevant areas of the business. The process with which this data is collected and displayed is the manufacturing company’s reporting technique. The importance of this difference emerges when considering the many forms of reporting, which are currently transforming the use of reports within businesses across all sectors.


When thinking about the “traditional” vehicle for reporting, most people cringe at the thought of a standard report - endless rows and columns, tabular data that can be grouped and sorted and that is rarely complemented by graphics and charts. However, this technique is now becoming an extinct method of delivering data, much to the delight of business executives. Furthermore, this outdated and “clunky” method of reporting is being replaced by an intuitive tool - dashboards.


As such, dashboard technology is the new face of reporting. Specifically, this reporting tool is replacing traditional reports with a quick and easy solution that offers a visually rich presentation of real-time data. With dashboards, business executives can look at the data gathered by their reporting procedures and make well-informed yet quick decisions. How? Dashboards’ visual display (e.g., bar charts and line graphs) consolidate and arrange data needed to achieve one or more objectives onto a single screen, so users can understand trends and correlations at a glance.


These functionalities are especially important given the evolution of businesses’ reporting needs. After many years of “sitting” on mounds of data, companies now need to utilize this information to stay competitive. In addition to this growing demand, companies are gathering more data than ever, but the data is disjointed, spread across many areas of the business and throughout many reporting tools. Finally, the cramped schedules and depleted resources of business executives place them in an increasingly difficult position: executives cannot afford to pay the middle man or a worker bee to prepare the data and manually create easy-to-interpret charts and graphs, and they also cannot afford to spend the time to complete this task themselves or be mired in endless amounts of spreadsheets. The end result is a high demand for a quick and easy, cost-effective reporting tool that allows them to view real-time information in a format that is easy to digest. Given these requirements, reporting has evolved, and the need for dashboards becomes clear.


Consider the following options: either waste time trying to understand 20 rows and five columns of data, amassing 100 data points, or employ a dashboard to present this information in a series of color-coded line and column graphs, which ultimately allow users to understand their data with a quick glance. Dashboards are obviously the viable solution, providing users with a chance to “visually discover” trends within their data, a capability that the static functions of traditional reports do not offer. 


In addition to this advantage, dashboards provide a drill-down option. More clearly, if a user desires more information about a particular set of metrics, he or she can drill down into that specific area of interest to view more information and detail, thereby gaining greater visibility into the metrics. Also, with the “what if” analysis, dashboards allow users to determine root-cause analysis, a functionality that is instrumental to understanding data. Specifically, this analysis instantaneously calculates a complex relationship between an array of interdependent variables; sliders and animated knobs can interact with other charts and graphs within the dashboard, which allows users to see interaction among many variables. Furthermore, the user can adjust the controls to change an independent value, which then leads to computed values of other dependent values on the dashboard to change. The end result is the ability to see possible outcomes, providing a complete view into and visibility across the data.


Finally, dashboards often have an alerting component that notifies the user if a metric falls outside of a predetermined range; this functionality is typically referred to as business activity monitoring (BAM). That said, even when a user is not dealing with the dashboard, he or she will receive an email or mobile alert about this change. Alongside the visual representation of data, drill-down options and the root-cause analysis, this proactive system is yet another capability that differentiates dashboards from the standard report, offering yet another way to avoid the catastrophe of data overload.


Clearly, dashboards are the solution to businesses’ transforming reporting needs, because, with a dashboard, the information that was once buried in a spreadsheet is now obvious to viewers. With these capabilities, an interactive dashboard encourages users to review data regularly, making trends and correlations among the numbers easy to recognize. It is this simple value proposition of effective visualization that is pushing the reporting world from the report to the dashboard, and thereby making dashboards the new face of reporting.


Furthermore, businesses are gradually catching onto this trend, while also partaking in the movement to bring business intelligence (BI) to the masses. This initiative asserts that the benefits of information need to be pervasive within an organization, meaning that all employees - business executives down to operational staff - must have access to appropriate information. As a niche BI solution, dashboards are emerging as the cornerstones of these initiatives, offering a customizable tool for each employee, and at a more cost-effective price than traditional large-scale BI solutions.


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