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 companys 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 Furthermore, this outdated and clunky method of reporting is being replaced by an intuitive tool - dashboards.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.
Consider the following examples wherein dashboards have cultivated BI throughout the business across all levels. In the health care industry, doctors, nurses and hospital administrative staff have much to gain from enhanced reporting of patient and diagnostic data. Years ago, only high-level hospital administrators had access to reports about different aspects of hospital performance, but today, dashboards provide this information to all hospital employees, provided that the security rules allow them to see such information. For example, an administrator can see cash-flow details, a doctor can see patient satisfaction information and a nurse can see admissions numbers. In turn, this increased visibility allows administrators, doctors and nurses to view important information that is pertinent to their job function and ultimately improves patient care and services.
Manufacturing is another industry that benefits from BI for the masses. Foremen and floor managers with access to real-time production data can quickly make time- and cost-saving decisions with the functionalities provided by a dashboard. For example, with increased visibility into supply chain data, a foreman can make better decisions about the timing and quantity of supplies and products to be moved in and out of his facility. This capability allows the manufacturing company to function more efficiently, as they can order only the necessary amount of supplies when needed, cutting down on unnecessary expenditures and time.
Finally, for companies that present large amounts of data to their customers (e.g., credit card companies, banks, insurance providers, airline frequent flier programs and utility companies, to name a few), dashboards bring BI to an even larger group than merely business users: the consumer. More clearly, these customer-facing dashboards provide customers with their own data in a simple and user-friendly presentation, thereby enhancing customer satisfaction. For example, a credit card company, which collects data across various expense categories and over different time periods, can offer this information to its customers. However, this abundance of data is overwhelming and complex to understand, especially to the consumer. For this data to be of value to the customers, the credit card companies must present the information in a way that is useful to its customers, while also considering their privacy (i.e., providing a secure method and delivery of presentation).
Dashboards provide the answer, providing the appropriate tool to manage this data. Specifically, with a secure login, a customer can access his or her transaction data and create visual reports, view real-time graphs of his or her transactions, and run analytics - all of which are capabilities that allow customers to understand different aspects of their transactions. Through using these functionalities, customers can understand their data quickly and easily, and answer questions such as, where am I spending the most money? Which months am I spending the most money? Customers can make more informed decisions without wasting time digging through myriad data. Furthermore, because of this ability, customers will be more likely to access and utilize their information. In this way, dashboards provide a value-add to enhance customer satisfaction and therefore boost the companys competitiveness.
Through these brief examples, it is evident that dashboards have quickly become the new face of reporting, opening up the world of reporting to new audiences throughout numerous organizations across many industry sectors. From the seasoned executive, who guides the course of his company, down to the worker bee, who drives the business forward, to the consumer, who fuels the company with revenue, dashboards provide everyone with a quick and easy way to dig through massive amounts of data, thereby allowing them to make smarter decisions quicker than ever before.
Of course, it is great to have information, but it is what we do with that information that really matters. While a dashboard provides a quick way to understand data, the real value is in the way that this information access improves the processes of decision-making and performance management. As a result, with the wide spectrum of users and the aforementioned examples, dashboards have become the new face of reporting. Moreover, with its engaging graphical user interface, dashboards make the distinction between reporting and a report. This difference speaks to the adage, a picture is worth a thousand words, but instead of words, this picture, or graph, represents thousands of data points.
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