KPI, BI & Dashboard Glossary of Terms

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 6, 2012 by Johnathan Briggs


A metric is an aspect of a business that is measured. This could cover any aspect of the business and is normally recorded on a regular basis as a performance indicator. An example of a typical performance metric would be “days lost to sickness”. This would be recorded at regular intervals, for example every month.


KPI stands for Key Performance Indicators. A Key Performance Indicator is a recorded metric that is considered a good indicator to the success or otherwise of the business. Whilst most businesses will record many thing, only a few of them will be considered “Key” and presenting these in KPI dashboards and management reports provides a clear indication as to the health of the business. KPIs are normally presented in both a numeric and visual way. When presented visually the trend, ie direction of travel can provide additional clues to the progress of the business.

Business Intelligence (BI)

Business Intelligence is the phase used commonly to mean that you can look through your corporate data for answers to questions you may have. For example “do more people buy my product on a Friday than a Monday”. Business Intelligence is a fancy phase for database reporting. There is an increasing larger cross over between business intelligence systems and KPI dashboard systems.


A dashboard is normally a software application or online application that allows manager to visually view their metric and KPIs. Dashboard software comes in many forms, from very complex database system that require technical implementation to the new breed of easy to use online applications like Target Dashboard.

Chart / Graph

No dashboard would be complete without some charts or graphs. A good dashboard will consist of a number of charts each chart will be carefully laid out and designed to communicate a key message to the reader. A Common mistake in building dashboard charts is to attempt to include too much data on one chart. The result is a cluttered, difficult to read visual indictor that could lead to essential information being missed. If you are interested in how best to lay out a dashboard and build charts why not read our Dashboard Best Practice Guide ?


Gauges take many forms, but the most popular and perhaps the least effective is the analogue dial. Dashboard designers and software vendors love this “car dashboard” style, but in reality it normally is a poor visual indicator to add to your dashboard as it only provides instantaneous knowledge and ignores the all-important trend information. Some companies such as Target Dashboard have sought to reinvent the gauge to overcome some of it shortcoming. See this post for some better gauge ideas.

Gauges can be a useful part of a dashboard, but are best used in conjunction with charts. The gauges should ideal show actual values, targets and trends to be effective.

Scorecard / Balanced Scorecard

A score card is simple a tabular way of evaluating the performance of part of the business or a particular metric. The actual definition of what should be in your scorecard is really up to you, but a typical scorecard might contain:

  • Current actual value (ie this month)
  • Previous Actual value (ie last month)
  • % change from last month to this
  • Target value
  • % on or off target

· Possible a trend indicator or some type such as a sparkline

A balance scorecard sounds like a physical item but it’s actually more of a methodology for performance management. Whilst in this post it is not possible to explain the Balance Scorecard approach you can read more about it here.

With a balance scorecard approach you do end up with a visual output. Typically these are a scorecard but are converted into a percentage of optimal performance. So if our score was 100% then this area of the business would be running perfectly.

Management Reports

A Management Report is simple a report that provide information about our metrics and KPIs. The best management reports use visual indicators and allow the reader to view headline visual and then delve deeper in the number only if they feel there is a need. Here is an example

Data shaping
Producing great visuals that clearly communicate the state of the business makes and massive difference to the efficient running of any business. However before the great visual comes good data. This is tricky bit. Data can be laid out in many different ways, sometimes there is more than one good way to lay out the data. Most often there will be a format for the data that will allow you to collect and report on the data easier. We call this data shaping.


If you have raw data, let’s say sales values by each sales person, you may want to pull out just one part of that data, for example “Sales for John” then you will need to apply a filter to your data to extract just a segment of it. In this example the filter would look something like this …where “Salesperson=John”


Pivoting is a technique regularly used to flip or rotate data and which enables you to make comparisons.

Using this technique your data can be transformed from this,

In addition, the data is usually sorted, counted, totalled or averaged automatically once the dimensions of the pivot have been set up.

Read more in our Pivot Table Tutorial


SQL (Structured Query Language) is a computer programming language that is used to manage data in a database (an organised collection of data). Some common SQL commands include "insert," "update," and "delete”. SQL is commonly used for Web database development and management but can also be used with Excel spreadsheets. Most data is stored in a SQL compliant database, so have some knowledge of SQL is very useful.