“Just Get It Done!”: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Building Dashboards Part 1/2: The Importance of the Platform

A dashboard is often what we envision when we think of business intelligence, and with good reason: What better way to look at information than in a centralized, easy-to-read hub? The idea of dashboards and the ease with which they can be created is a central marketing concept of almost every business intelligence platform on the market today; modern platforms empower business users to create dashboards on a whim, quickly dragging and dropping elements onto a user interface, and this perceived ease encourages project managers to accelerate timelines for the production and deployment of dashboards by analysts and developers.

“Why do you need a month? Just drop the charts on and get it out, I thought that’s why we bought this thing.” Sound familiar? All too quickly, that “simple dashboard” becomes twenty, easy to build in the short term, but with value hard to quantify in the long term as the supposed insights they drive become too unfocused and fragmented. Once again, business users must look many places for information instead of one and the dashboard concept that makes the platform so appealing is lost; your business is back at the chaotic stage of distributed spreadsheets, you’ve just gotten there faster and easier than ever before.

Making dashboards is easy. Making good dashboards on an ongoing basis can be a challenge.

In this two-part post, we’ll start by covering the motivation behind selecting the right platform for the long term by talking through some essential criteria and follow with some guidelines to help you build meaningful dashboards that are designed to last and provide measurable business value.

The Insight Revolution: Choosing the Right Platform

Businesses are fueled by data, and data comes from everywhere. Laptops, desktops, phones, cars, watches, washing machines; as technology evolves and the internet of things becomes more pervasive, so do the depths of the avenues of information flowing into our databases – millions and billions of rows of it. But what good is all that information if you don’t do anything with it, or worse, if you can’t? The potential of information is only realized once it leads to insight and action: This is what elevates business information to business intelligence. We are amidst not an information revolution, but an insight revolution, and to stay ahead of the pack your organization must encompass this idea in its strategy for BI.

Beneath the immediately marketable, visually tangible idea of the easy dashboard, the strength of a solid business intelligence product lies in its foundational value as a platform. To offer a successful platform, a BI product must adhere to several core criteria: It must be scalable, it must be flexible, and it must be approachable. This is what elevates a well-designed implementation of a business intelligence product above the shared drives of spreadsheets and personal databases endemic to modern business.

If you’re in the process of platform selection, consider the following bullet points as you evaluate your options. What will work for your business for the long term? If you already have a platform deployed, take the time to understand your platform’s strengths and weaknesses. What can you do well and what will you need to design around? If you’re still back in the land of shared drives and spreadsheets, start thinking about when your business will reach the stage where it’s time to take the next step.

Scalable

A scalable platform enables it to grow with your business, whether you are a team of ten or ten thousand. It features:

  • Data Governance: Management of the metrics and business rules driving your organization in a maintainable and consistent fashion
  • User Management: Logical, granular access for a small directory of a few users or a massive single sign on integration with dozens or hundreds of user groups
  • Resource Efficiency: Performant running on a local, internal-only server or desktop up to a worldwide cloud-based installation as your need grows
Flexible

A flexible platform facilitates the access of information and insight wherever you need it. It features:

  • Access Agnosticism: Accessible by users regardless of their device or operating system, whether they are on computers, phones, or tablets
  • Strong Connectivity: Retrieval of data from many source formats with minimal overhead, including spreadsheets, databases, or restful web services
  • Separation of Concerns: Supports the integration, migration, and modification of data processes without impacting the end user experience
Approachable

An approachable platform is user-centric and understands that business intelligence is not one-size-fits-all. It features:

  • Diverse Presentation: Integrates well into browsers, applications, custom interfaces, reports, emails, and more so you can meet your users where they’re at
  • Familiar Formats: Supports export and distribution of data using common business standards, such as spreadsheets and presentations
  • Intuitive Tools: Interactive and navigationally friendly, offers accessible tools for data manipulation and self-service insight

With an appreciation of the conceptual strengths of a good BI platform, you’re well on your way to formulating a response to the hypothetical argument posed in the introduction. Choosing a product that fulfills these criteria is the first step to building great dashboards, as these are also among the criteria for effective dashboard design; if your platform doesn’t support these ideals, how can you expect your dashboards to?

Check back for our follow up as we do a deeper dive into dashboards!

Adam is a Solutions Consultant at Axis Group with years of experience developing custom solutions for data management and business intelligence. He's dedicated to helping clients understand how to deliver measurable business value and design strategies for the long term.

TAGS: Data Visualization, Presentation, Dashboards, Design, Visualization

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