Five steps for designing an effective BI dashboard

The BI dashboard can be a very useful tool for data engagement if the dashboard is designed and used effectively. Here are five tips to ensure you're optimizing your dashboard.

The BI market has seen a number of significant changes around big data, visualization capabilities and advanced analytics. CIOs still believe that many of the solutions available to them lack a critical and important component: end-user engagement capabilities through storytelling. IT executives are now focusing on identifying which BI solutions have invested in those features to ensure that, once those products are implemented, their end users are more engaged with the data.

In the past, sharing reports and statistics within an organization relied heavily on email. The data was mostly locked into Excel spreadsheets or PDFs. Those methods of data representation have not proven to be very effective. IT executives are looking to be more effective in their data communication strategy and, therefore, are shifting away from traditional data reporting.

Storytelling has always been a primal form of communication. Executives have been known to receive training in this discipline to improve their communication and engagement skills. In order to help improve the delivery of data and insights from BI in a meaningful way, IT executives are now starting to incorporate storytelling as part of their business intelligence. Here are a few recommendations for what can be implemented as part of a business intelligence platform to ensure that dashboards and reports tell the full story:

Know your users' needs: When it comes down to generating meaningful BI reports and BI dashboards, there are key questions that should always be asked first. What are we trying to accomplish with these visualizations? What are some of the desired insights we are looking to extract from them? What are some of the actions that will be tied to any insights detected in the reports? Once these questions have been answered, the business analyst and dashboard/report designer should have a better sense of what needs to be designed and built in order to provide clear visualizations that can adequately address the business users' needs.

Design with the user in mind: The look and feel of the BI dashboard can have a tremendous impact on how users engage with it. The designer must take into consideration the color coordination, layouts, clutter, titles, fonts and appropriate types of visualizations to be used in order to ensure that the reports are visually appealing and easy to interact with for the user.

Provide the proper visualization for the right data: Several of the BI packages offered today include a quick and easy way to drag and drop any chart into the report canvas. With options like pie charts, bar charts, trend lines, KPIs and radar charts, the dashboard designer must be careful to choose the right visualization to represent the right data. The use of KPIs and gauges is helpful when goals and thresholds need to be displayed or when trend line charts need to be used to represent sales numbers over time.

Allow room for user insights: In a number of BI implementations, end users found it very helpful to have short comments or videos describing the insights and observations made using the data. This gives the end users a baseline of what has been noted from a specific set of BI dashboards and a good way to engage with them.

Help users identify ongoing issues: When a sales director evaluates the sales performance of the organization in a BI dashboard, he or she is likely going to drill down deep enough in order to see what caused a specific dip in sales. This does not always mean that capability is the only method of analysis they will use. The sales director is likely going to look at additional dashboards and reports to gain more insight into the cause of an issue. It becomes critical for report designers to maintain all related dashboards at the end user's fingertips to allow them to perform all of their analysis without having to chase other reports and data.

It is in our human nature to seek stories to better understand and absorb information from others. IT executives are looking to harness the power of storytelling to engage business users with their BI reports. Powerful analytics features are simply not good enough on their own; the BI platforms in the marketplace must offer capabilities to help better communicate and deliver the information in a meaningful way.

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