Dashboards are an important tool for business analysts and decision-makers at all levels, but not all dashboards are created equal. Ask any experienced data analyst, and they’ll likely tell you about a dashboard they used that was absolutely abysmal; it didn’t work right, it wasn’t user-friendly, and it never seemed to help them draw the right conclusions.
But what is it that makes one dashboard better than another? What makes a data dashboard effective?
If you’re looking for a BI dashboard, or any other dashboard that helps you parse and understand data from a high level, this is an important question to answer. We’ll attempt to answer it across three main sections: dashboard core features, design, and functionality.
Dashboard Core Features
Let’s start with some of the core features that make a dashboard effective:
· Graph and chart options. For a better understanding of the data at hand, you need to be able to see it in many different lights. That means relying on a mix of varying data visuals, including various charts and graphs.
· Interactive components. Similarly, analysts need access to a range of different interactive components. They should be able to change inputs, tinker with variables, and see how the graphs respond.
· Customizability. Your dashboard may work well in its default state, but your analysts should have some capacity to customize what they see (and how they use the dashboard). Simple customization options, like changing the layout, the colors, or icons associated with different options, can make the life of an analyst much easier.
· Real-time data. Increasingly, dashboards are beginning to include options to analyze data in real-time. Real-time data analytics aren’t useful for every business or every application, but sometimes, they can be used to make much better-informed (and much faster) decisions.
· Predictive analytics. Predictive analytics often utilizes the power of artificial intelligence (AI) to extrapolate trends from historical data, and project them into the future. In other words, it allows you to predict what will happen next, based on what you already know—but not all dashboards offer this.
· Simple reporting and sharing. Effective dashboards also need to provide analysts will simple reporting and sharing features. Communicating about data is often as important as analyzing it, so it’s important to have tools in place that make that communication easier.
Those core features won’t mean much unless the dashboard also offers an effective design. Well-designed dashboards are much easier to interpret, and they’re more aesthetically pleasing as well.
These are some of the most important qualities to include:
· Clarity. The design elements should be clear and intuitive; even a non-analyst should be able to figure out the basics of the dashboard. Their eyes should be drawn to the most important sections, and it should be obvious what various buttons and filters do.
· Minimalism. Some dashboard designers try to fit as much as possible onto a single screen or a single report, but this is often counterproductive. More often, it’s better to practice minimalism, and only include what’s necessary for greater understanding.
· Strong colors. Any dashboard design can be improved with the right color choices. There’s no “right” or “wrong” answer here, but strongly contrasting colors are often useful for distinguishing between different views.
Of course, we also need to think about the functionality of the dashboard. How well does it work under a variety of conditions and situations?
· Data accuracy. Much of your effectiveness with a dashboard depends on the accuracy and reliability of your data. Arguably, this is less about the dashboard and more about what you’re feeding into it, but you still need to consider your data integrity.
· Connectivity. The average small business currently uses 102 different apps. That’s a lot to manage. Good dashboards make it easier by connecting directly with a variety of other apps.
· Device compatibility. A dashboard should be available on almost any device and any operating system. This shouldn’t impact access to core features.
· Performance. A good dashboard will be able to perform consistently; it shouldn’t have disruptive bugs that disrupt a user’s attempts to manipulate data, and shouldn’t be affected with lag or slowdown from simple user actions.
· Uptime. Finally, the dashboard should be up at least 99.9 percent of the time. Real-time data won’t do your business any good if the dashboard is down.
If you can find a BI dashboard that has all these features (and then some), you’ll be in a good position to improve your data analysis strategy. There are many dashboard software options available today, but great dashboards are relatively hard to come by. Do your due diligence, and make sure you experiment with free trials before committing to any dashboard purchase or subscription.