What are Dashboards really for?

Dashboards are for Action, Not Information!

Given how much has been said about Business Intelligence over the years, it is hard to imagine that someone could, within the 140 character constraint, use a single post on Twitter (I still can’t quite bring myself to say “tweet”) to impart real wisdom about BI, but a few weeks ago I saw something from Gartner analyst Andreas Bitterer which did exactly that. He wrote :

Ironically, the timestamp on the post was April 1st, but I very much hope that this was not meant as an April fool because it cuts right to the heart of what effective BI is all about.

Business is not about knowing, it is about doing.

A good business intelligence system should reflect this. Unfortunately, there is a large part of human nature which is reassured simply by knowing. This tends to spawn BI systems which help people feel that they are in control, rather than do anything useful to actually drive the organization forward.

So for EVERY report, spreadsheet, dashboard, query, visualization, or whatever other form your BI takes, I would encourage you to make sure that there is a clear line of sight from the information you are delivering, to an action someone is going to take to move your organization forward. If you can’t make this connection, I would question the business value being delivered.

This is particularly true in the world of dashboards.

Dashboards are too often limited to simply giving an overview of the current situation.

It helps people to know what is happening, but offers nothing to help them drive action. This misses a huge opportunity, as a well-designed dashboard should provide interactivity to allow its users to drill into the data to help them decide what to do next.

A sales dashboard that only indicates you are on track for the quarter is of very-limited value, one which simply tells you that you are behind plan is not much better, but one which allows you to find out, based on past evidence, which customers in which region are most likely to buy which products is a huge step forward. Now it is much easier to take immediate and effective action (regardless of whether you are behind plan or not).

So, if your dashboards are simply single-screen windows onto the current state of play, perhaps you should consider adding a little well thought out interactivity to better direct end-user activity.

Donald MacCormick is the Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Antivia, an SAP® software solution partner, and creator of XWIS the Xcelsius-to-SAP BusinessObjects connectivity solution. In past years, he was a long term member of BusinessObjects and Crystal, and part of the team that brought Xcelsius into the BusinessObjects portfolio.

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10 Responses to “What are Dashboards really for?”

  1. Timo Elliott says:

    …and if nothing else, thinking about what you’re actually going to do with the data also forces you to think long and hard about what you should be putting on the dashboard in the first place…

  2. Jim Brogden says:

    I like this post and completely agree. Dashboards should provide users with interactive and actionable content that drive better decisions with messages like – this is “what’s happening” followed by “why it’s happening”.

  3. Kalyan Verma says:

    Excellent post Don!

    Often times one gets carried away so much into designing a Dashboard/Report that they forget the actual purpose of its existence. It is always good to take a pause, shake yourself (may be slap yourself sometimes) and remind yourself that “I” is for intelligence and not just “information”.


  4. Kalyan Verma says:

    and also “What can I do about it”

  5. Ladi Omole says:

    Dashboard has been used ever before computer. Interactivity, drill down etc. should not be a requirement. Dashboard should be able communicate the message from the board, screen,plate, paper or wall. The auto industry that Information technology borrowed the word “dashboard” from did not have drill down functionality.
    Original meaning of dashboard will not be settled until we have a clear definition of the “dash” in dash-board.
    Dashboard should be about decision making not more about action. To act or not to act is a decision. It is always good make an informed decision; a well-designed dashboard should provide the needed information for the decision.

  6. Hunain Kochra says:

    I am glad somebody has brought this topic into attention. Most of the dashboards which i have seen so far have been visual reports. Knowing there is a problem and the ability to drill down to find out where the problem lies i.e. root cause analysis should be a must have for all dashboards. Otherwise dashboards will merely be a data visualization tool. I like Timo’s presentation on Empower users with critical business information where he talks about what dashboards should not not do
    1st- Provide Advanced Analysis Capabilities- This is a job of an anlytics tool

    2nd- Show large amounts of detailed information- This is a report

    But the last point which he makes is the real key, at the same time it should enable easy integration with other BI tools.

    In the 1st case advanced analysis could be complex what-if scenarios which can be easily built on xcelsius dashboards using the power of excel.This can definitely empower a user. A report could be included as the last level in a dashboard and could be hyperlinked context based. If one can bring the power of all this into a dashboard it will be an effective tool for decision making otherwise Business Intelligence Dashboards will simply be a data visualization tool. Thanks.

  7. Excellent Article Don. This is exactly why we need to focus on providing actionable information right (Detail) in the dashboard Vs criticizing “Xcelsius can’t handle data volume”. There are various BI techniques as well as third party tools available to help achieve this.

  8. Luis says:

    Here’s my theory, builders build what they are asked to build. Manager’s will not stick their necks out based on results from a dash board. I am a newbie from the GIS mapping world and the hardest part about getting this BI software is there is alot of talking and very little examples. GIS is based on some very clear cut cartographic & geography based principles (Freeways should never be blue because the minds we think they are rivers, etc….)

    What clear principles are to be followed when creating DB’s? Where can I find these principles?

    Thank you.

    Luis Navarro

  9. [...] Andy Bitterer On Twitter Andy wrote that he thought it was a fake. So it just goes to show that Gartner Analysts are not infallible! Having said that, I did just credit Andy with the “best BI advice I have ever seen in a single tweet” in the recent 5 Unorthodox Principles for Dashboard Success ebook and in a blog post for Everything Xcelsius. [...]

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