In a modern business world that demands continuously improved performance, managers would greatly benefit from access to real-time data visualisation that assist with the analysis required for managing dynamic business situations. Traditional reporting tools such as Excel are excellent for static reporting, however they do not provide real-time business insights.
The use of dashboards enables executives and business managers to successfully keep abreast of their business operations. Dashboards are usually a combination of graphs, charts, gauges and other visual indicators that can be monitored and interpreted. The ability to quickly access KPIs such as sales results, marketing costs, human resource statistics or production can greatly assist with effective decision making.
When well configured, dashboard provide a sort of business diagnostics, indicating when something is wrong or something is right. Dashboards often help managers consolidate key performance indicators, monitor critical issues and assist in identifying areas that need immediate attention.
Whilst it is relatively straightforward to configure a dashboard for a single application, it becomes more complicated when data from more than one application must be interrogated to provide a single dashboard. This more advanced dashboard requires more thought, planning and input. In return, it often provides much more meaningful results. Dynamic dashboards use this cross reporting method, where data is interrogated from multiple applications. It is also known as “data mashup”.
To understand how dashboards can benefit an organisation, consider a company with a sales and support functions that’s losing customers. Take the situation where the sales application is independent of the support application. How would a dynamic dashboard be beneficial? It would be useful for a manager to access a dashboard graph that compared the number of support tickets against the number of customers lost. It would be easy for the manager to notice a correlation between the statistics. Maybe the graph might highlight a trend that he or she could address before more customers start leaving. Another example might be to create a dashboard that graphed the time it takes to solve defects or flaws with a particular product or service.
Most dashboard applications are capable of reading CSV files. Some of them come with pre-developed interfaces to major applications such as Salesforce or AdWords. The technical element of establishing the settings and configuring tools to extract data from different applications is not simple. Building the dashboards will take time and probably require a dedicated resource for some period; however, once the dashboards are configured, they will operate in real-time. This means that reports can be automatically emailed as spread sheets and PDF documents, or that live dashboards are available at a secure web address.
Most businesses have probably set up and implemented Google Analytics on their website. Although Google Analytics is free, it usually requires someone with technical skills to configure it. Google Analytics is a serious tool that provides a solid reflection of website activity; however, the quality of the “dashboard” tools are quite limited. It will store the search terms and phrases that people use to access the website. It will provide insights into the website in terms of the number of visits, new visits, page views, average time spent on the site and site usage.
However, other products on the market produce better quality and more meaningful dashboards than Google Analytics. Naturally, they are not free. Sold as software as a service (SaaS), a free trial period is usually available that offers a chance to try out a different offerings. At a starting cost of approximately $1,000 per year they are not cheap. DashThis or Bime make a good investment with many pre-developed reports included in the fee. For something much more expensive and sophisticated check out GoodData.
Naturally, the quality of a dashboard depends on the available data. The most important factor for a successful implementation of business analytics practices are sufficient volumes of quality data. Development of meaningful dashboards and their accurate interpretation is equally important. Only when the above points are addressed will the analytics yield value.
With companies making significant investments in software and the explosion in data an investment in developing dashboards might just be what a manager needs. Regular snapshots of business performance that dashboards provide will enhance the strategic and operational business decision making.♦ End