When creating a BI Dashboard, it is crucial not to let the volume of data lead to any deterioration in the Dashboard’s clarity.
Dashboards are a hot topic right now, with companies beginning to realise their true potential. If successful, a BI Dashboard can be a great way of consolidating large volumes of data into a significantly reduced and easier to view format – a solution which saves both time and money.
However, there is often the temptation to cram too much information into a single Dashboard – or even create multiple Dashboards through which users must then navigate to locate the information they require. This can actually defeat the whole point of a Dashboard – and be counterproductive for business users.
By following a few simple tips, you can streamline your BI Dashboard, allowing users to extract the greatest amount of value possible from the information.
1. Assess what information is really necessary
With such a limited amount of space available on a Dashboard, it is essential that you take a somewhat ruthless approach to what really needs to be there. As Lachlan James states “not everything is a KPI”.
In other methods of reporting, it is common to find information that is not entirely necessary but that helps to bulk out the report. With a Dashboard, however, you cannot afford this luxury and there needs to be more stringent restrictions on what should be included. Less can certainly be more.
There may, for example, be information which has been used extensively in the past but has now become outdated, irrelevant or simply used less frequently. The user may still consider this information to be important but including it on the Dashboard could take up valuable space, space that could be used for metrics which are currently more appropriate.
The end users ultimately define what information they want to be included but it is important to draw on knowledge and experience to guide them in making these decisions.
2. Where possible use a single Dashboard
One of the major advantages of a BI Dashboard is that it collates a large number of key metrics into one location. Howard Solomon argues that “dealing with multiple Dashboards defeats the advantage”.
This problem is also highlighted in a recent Forbes article by Dan Woods. He states that, “Once you have the Dashboard you need, using it can be a joyful experience. But navigating the swamp of Dashboards is a mess.”
Of course, it may be the case that different users within an organization will use different Dashboards, but where this is so, it is vital to make clear which Dashboard an individual should be using to avoid confusion.
3. Where possible limit that Dashboard to a single page
Design principles generally suggest that the size of a BI Dashboard should be limited to a single page and be able to fit the screen of the platform on which it is being viewed. This allows the user to view key metrics at a glance but then gives the option to drill down further into specific areas.
Lachlan James reiterates this point in his Top BI Dashboard Design and Delivery Worst Practices where he argues that, “If you can’t interpret a Dashboard at a glance, the information is actually fighting against its intended purpose – it’s too detailed”.
If the user is required to switch between various pages or scroll down to view more information then it is likely that important data will be obscured or neglected. This can significantly limit the effectiveness of the overall Dashboard. Bob Johansen even goes so far as to say that, “Data that is off the screen, that you have to scroll to get to, will never be seen”.
4. Adopt a clear structure
It is important not to underestimate the importance of structure when it comes to designing a BI Dashboard. No matter how good the data is, if it is presented in an unclear manner then it will lose much of its value.
Stephen Few wrote that, “Dashboard content must be organized in a way that reflects the nature of the information and that supports efficient and meaningful monitoring”. (Stephen Few, Information Dashboard Design, 2013)
In order to promote this meaningful monitoring, it is important to define what exactly the data is trying to say and to choose a structure that is conducive to this message.
One of the most common structures used in Dashboards is a simple grid structure which devotes a similar sized area to each performance indicator. However, in cases where a link between the data must be expressed, you may choose to use a flow or relationship structure.
By following these four simple tips, your BI Dashboard should not only look great, but also be much easier for users to navigate. Rather than being confusing and cluttered, it will provide a clear presentation of the exact information users wish to obtain.
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