3 Ways to use Raw Data in your KPI Dashboard

Last Updated: Friday, January 25, 2013 by Johnathan Briggs

When people think of KPI dashboards, the first thing that comes to mind is a display of graphs and charts (not to mention gauges!) which represent KPI data visually.

There are times, however, that visuals alone don’t quite cut the cake. While charts and graphs are absolutely brilliant at uncovering patterns in data, they may not depict data as precisely as the raw KPI data (usually in the form of a table). But raw data needs to be scrutinised to pick up on trends, which takes not only time and effort, but can also require considerable mathematical ability.

So, how do we gain the ease of use of graphics, while retaining the precision of raw data? In this post, I will show you 3 ways to use raw numbers to compliment the visuals in your KPI Management software.

1. Adding Values to a Chart

This seems simple and rather obvious, right? Well, simple can also be incredibly effective. I’ve seen many dashboards which focus on sleek presentation, including line graphs that look like heart rate monitors, more gauges than in an F-22 raptor cockpit, and other pieces of graphical wizardry. However, while these can be usable for displaying data (and might impress the higher-ups by pure visual splendour), they don’t give any context as to the size of measure, and therefore might lead to the wrong conclusions being drawn from data. For example, take this area chart depicting recent sales figures.

                                                This is a little difficult to read

While you can see the basic trend, the actual sales figures are hard to discern from a glance, as the interval scale is too large to pinpoint the actual numbers. Now, let’s try adding the values for each individual monthly measure.

                                                             Much Better!

The chart is now far easier to fully understand at a glance, as the individual figures contextualise the trends in the columns. This is not to mention that knowing the actual figures for a metric could be a crucial factor in taking the right course of action.

As the simplest method of giving context to a chart trend, adding the values of each measure into a chart can give managers a clearer picture of what’s going on in their business. However, as with everything else in creating dashboards, the needs of the individual KPIs being displayed must be taken into account; adding individual values to a line chart with multiple lines, for example can result in a cluttered and unreadable chart.

2. Displaying Raw data in your Dashboard

As I mentioned above, graphs and other visuals are sometimes inadequate for analysing KPIs due to not including all of the required information. However, another reason for this which I deigned to mention is that of personal preference. Many people process information differently, and some prefer to have a table of data, rather than charts.

Seeing as dashboards are only useful if the reader can easily glean information from them, using a display format preferred by the intended readers is paramount. It can therefore be a good idea to display raw data in your dashboard to allow as many people as possible to understand it. I find that the best way to do this is to include a Table Summary in the dashboard. Using Target Dashboard in particular, this is very simple to do. Here is an example of a graph showing the leads gained from advertising efforts, alongside its parent table.


The presence of both of these formats gives the reader a complete picture of the data represented in the chart, allowing the best decision to be made regarding this KPI. The table can also function as a quick reference for people to directly compare the chart to. Also, a feature unique to Target Dashboard is that when you convert your dashboard into a paper report, tables are automatically included for each chart.

However, there are a few things to remember when including tables in a dashboard. More often than not, KPI data tables contain a sizeable amount of data in them, so including the entire table would likely overwhelm the reader. Therefore, you should only include relevant data, such as data from the last few months, or just the columns and categories used in the dashboard.

3. Score Cards

While including a table in your dashboard allows you to include both graphics and numbers in your dashboard, using a score card allows for a combination of both. While there are many views floating around about what actually constitutes a scorecard, I like to think of it as basically a table that works like a dashboard; it contains only relevant data which is understandable at a glance, but looks much like a table with some graphics to make the message of the data clearer


Scorecards are brilliant for fitting lots of related information into a small space, such as the financial information used in the example above. In this example, the numerical data compliments the colours and charts, allowing the user to read the figures quickly, and easily absorb the trend information as well. Because of the layout, it doesn’t seem cluttered either. Scorecards are most useful when the data in the individual sections needs to be compared with each other often. Also, if you’re using Target Dashboard to create your scorecard (excellent choice, by the way), you can choose from a wealth of options, including percentage, delta, and balanced scorecards.

However, there are some things you should watch out for. It’s unwise to try and cram in as much information as you can into a scorecard. Scorecards work best when they are used for a very specific purpose, and not as a space saver. Also, the scorecard must be designed around the KPIs to be communicated; one scorecard layout won’t necessarily work for every occasion.

Using Numerical data alongside visuals can make your dashboard more effective

While dashboards are usually thought to be purely visual representations of data, using numbers to compliment the graphics can result in more people being able to understand what the dashboard is trying to tell them. Also, including the numerical data not only adds perspective to the charts in a dashboard.

This article has illustrated three ways which numerical data can be used effectively in a dashboard, but these aren’t the only ways. Using Target Dashboard in particular, you can experiment with different ways to use your data with just a few clicks, and perhaps come up with your own ways of making your dashboards into effective management tools. To learn how to always communicate the information that matters most, take a look at my previous post on designing dashboard charts and graphs.