In today’s business environment, there’s a lot of hype around business intelligence dashboards.

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Managing and extracting real value from ‘big data’ is a key challenge facing modern businesses. In looking for ways to simplify reporting and analysis, there is increasing demand for dashboards to communicate the information required in a clear and concise manner.

So what is a business intelligence dashboard?

A business intelligence dashboard is an information management tool used to track key performance indicators, metrics, and other critical data points relevant to a business or a specific process.

If created well, a dashboard pulls together different views of information in a single place, providing one of the most powerful ways to display current tasks and projects, account performance and management costs.

An effective business intelligence dashboard will make key information easily accessible to colleagues and clients, speeding up the process of making decisions and meeting business objectives.

What should you consider when designing a business dashboard?

A good business dashboard changes behaviour and promotes action. When designing a dashboard, start with a plan that has clear objectives and a target audience. Ask yourself the following questions:

● What type of data will you be working with? Is it quantitative, qualitative or a combination of both? How can this data best be presented?

● Who will be viewing this data? How many people will require access to the dashboard? How experienced are they with this kind of technology?

● Where is the data being accessed? For example, at home, on a laptop, from a mobile device or a web application?

A crucial element when designing a dashboard is to define exactly what information needs to be presented. The point is to represent key insights at a glance, so it’s important not to waste space with information that doesn’t add real value for the user.

What data should you have on your dashboard?

See below for the most relevant data for your specific area of the business:

Sales and Marketing

  • Sales numbers ($$ and quantity)
  • Marketing campaign success
  • Client demographics
  • Projected sales

Finance

  • Revenue
  • Expenses
  • Profits
  • Accounts payable

Manufacturing and Warehousing

  • Stock levels
  • Wastage
  • Production units
  • Production timelines

These reports should be easy to maintain. They should also be measurable over time and measurable against each other – especially when one result influences another. Set clear benchmarks and goals from the beginning, so that your targets are clear.

How do you create a business dashboard with optimal visual impact?

Aesthetic appearance can dramatically improve the effectiveness of your dashboard.

When presenting your information, colour choice is important. Consistent, contrasting colours allow key business metrics to ‘pop’, separating each data set clearly from other sections.

Avoid using red to represent positive data, as it carries negative connotations.

Similarly, charts and graphs must be present correctly for maximum impact. Use appropriate axis range, scale and labels. Be selective with which data is presented, as too much becomes confusing. Also avoid combining unrelated charts.

When producing your dashboard, think of it like a book – we read from left to right, top down. Present your data with the most important information beginning at the top left hand corner, and the least relevant items at the bottom right.

Your business dashboard is a broad overview of the core data, so it’s vital that the user can dig deeper to further investigate the results presented. Link the information on the dashboard to additional reports or breakdowns to help identify any underlying issues or opportunities at a glance.

See below for an example of an effective business intelligence dashboard. As you can see, key measurable data is presented over time, with the use of consistent, contrasting colours to maximise effect.

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A well-designed dashboard is like a joke – if you have to explain it, then it’s not effective at all. Through the use of well-planned data visualisation, an effective business information dashboard will simplify complex data to provide a clear picture of current performance, so that users can make critical decisions and focus on the day-to-day operation of the business.

If you are using cloud accounting, and add ons, for your business operations then some fantastic programs can be used to pull meaningful information out and present it in a strong format. Personal recommendations go to Crunchboards and Fathom for some incredibly strong reporting tools which are so easy to use.

Dan Fairbairn

Dan is passionate about technology as an enabler, with years of experience training, evaluating and implementing technology into small businesses. Outside of work he loves live music, craft beer and over-analysing sport...!

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