Can Your Dashboarding Software Do This?

Last Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 by Johnathan Briggs

Introduction

Dashboard reporting software ranges from simple Excel based systems to large and expensive enterprise systems. Most dashboarding software has at its core the ability to produce charts and other visual indicators which aim to communicate your numerical data in a clearer way. However, there are a several features that you should look out for over and above the basics which will, in time, make your implementation more successful.

Chart Designs and Variations

Most dashboard applications will have headlines stating the different number of charting styles that are available. They often showcase charts that look particularly complex to demonstrate the software capabilities. However, the most used and clear charts for KPIs are the humble column chart, line chart and filled area chart. 95% of the time you will use these, so make sure the application presents these types of charts well, and also make sure that these chart designs can be combined onto one chart so you can make clear the KPI but present secondary data such as targets making them slightly lower key.

Dashboards built by 'techies' or 'managers'

Traditional dashboarding applications have been aimed at 'database guys' with a feature rich but technical element to them. The problem here is that a manager has to "order" what he wants to display on his dashboard from the 'techies' and they implement this. The big issue with this is that the 'techies' don't understand the data as well as the manager, so they can easily present the data in a way that causes critical trends to be missed. In addition, because business changes so quickly, changing the dashboard can take a long time.

Make sure that your dashboarding application allows managers and not techies to create dashboards. This makes it easier for a manager to experiment with their data and therefore more naturally present the data in a way that reveals important information.

Chase missing data

One cause of major KPI headaches is getting data from lots of sources. Your dashboard software needs to have a mechanism through which automated alerts are sent when data is missing, to whom, and when, you want. Ideally the person receiving the e-mail will be given a choice to input the data directly into the KPI software or via a form view for which they don't need to log in.

You need to make decisions based on up to date data so make sure your dashboard solution is able to identify when data is missing and do something about it.

Email report exceptions

Whilst ideally you will check your dashboards regularly, the reality is that you don't have time to check every figure. So the ability for your solution to send out dashboard alerts when KPI's go above or below a threshold is vital. As soon as either of these limits is exceeded you should receive a notification e.g. an email, letting you know. You can then check if a genuine error has been made or if the data is actually correct.

Whichever it is, you will know that any decisions you are making will be based on correct data.

Create paper reports

Online dashboards are great but sometimes you need to be able to print out your dashboard details. It's important that the printed version of your dashboard is presented in the best way. What this means is that you should be able to create a report for each dashboard that you have, specifying which of the dashboard items you want to see. Sometimes what you want to see on screen isn't what you want to be able to print off and give to colleagues.

Make sure that any reports produced by your dashboard software can be customised and printed, e-mailed or shown on screen.

Presentations

There are just so many things that you might want to do with your dashboard and charts. As well as online KPI dashboards and PDF reports, your KPI software should be able to create scrolling presentations using charts from the dashboards. Often this is useful to motivate staff on, say, a big screen located in your offices.

View on any platform

An important topic to consider is the platform on which you can view and work with your dashboard application. Ask yourself, where will I want to be able to see my dashboard? Then check if the application has used responsive design so as to work on the platforms you prefer. For example, can it be used on PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones? Technology moves so quickly, so try to avoid being tied to one standard platform. For example if the dashboarding application works only as an iPad app you can become trapped.

Try to pick an application that has cross platform compatibility, so it is accessible now and more future proofed.

Embed in intranet

There are lots of reasons you would want to embed your charts and other dashboard items in an intranet but whichever one it is, the method for doing so needs to be very easy. Check that your dashboard solution can create the HTML code (YouTube Style) that you need to embed any of your dashboard items in your company intranet, website or other online vehicle.

Embedding charts, gauges etc. in your company intranet can be a very powerful and motivating way of sharing KPI data with your colleagues.

Getting your data in

Ideally all our data would be in a single database and our dashboard would just be a reporting extension of this. The reality is far from this. Most companies have data that is in many databases, accounting systems, CRM systems, other cloud applications like Google analytics, Excel files and also people's heads!

A good dashboard application will make it easy to work with all combinations of this data and present it all together in a coherent view. The reality is that some data will be a combination of sources, so for example "sales" data might be drawn from the accounts system, but the monthly sales targets entered manually into an Excel file. Any software you use needs to seamlessly manage this patchwork of data.

Conclusion

Dashboard applications look very visually attractive and enticing. But it is important to look beyond the obvious visual elements to the day to day usage and data management and make sure that you pick a product that fits your organisation.