Don't do reports, build dashboards that communicate

December 2, 2015

I believe there is a big confusion among analysts, business intelligence professionals and everyone who is tasked to look at the numbers and tell the big boys the needed insights for business decisions.


Most analysts these days would make a dashboard, a report or a scorecard that doesn't communicate to you things you need to improve your business, you still need to beat the hell out of it but analyzing further, drilling down etc... to get that final insight you need that will drive you to do action. If the way you present your data doesn't influence your audience to do action then you have failed in communicating data.


You see most high level Directors, VPs and even the CEO do not have time to look at dashboard, marinate on the numbers and drill down just to get the insight they need that will aid their decision. The task of the analyst is to develop an application that communicates the answers to commonly asked question during business reviews like is there a KPI that has gone above average in the past three months, which KPI we need to talk about that affects ie Cost the most, which division is not performing well, what caused the x% increase in sales and who contributed the most? If you've developed an application instead of a report/dashboard/scorecard, then it should offer the answers to the latter questions and communicate insight automatically. In this way your application tells the story even before the question is asked, then when the story is no longer revelant, change the message based on the feedback from the users.


Now easier said than done right, it is possible. I am not saying you can't build a data heavy dashboard, you still do that but save that for the power user, the operational guy, the one who knows the data well.


How to design applications not dashboards:


1. Ensure you do not put all 40+ KPIs in a dashboard that your director or VP will use. Feature only the top 5 KPIs which bring the most benefit to the business if acted upon.


2. Offer a bit of drill down on the KPI and bundle relevant KPis together. Now this is a bit tricky but you can design to put that a bit lower in the dashboard. It's like what my former high school newspaper editor would tell me, "The first sentence should summarize the story." Why? because people would most like read the first sentence and only a few read until the end of the article.


3. Develop views like this KPI has change +26% or dropped -2% since last month/quarter etc... and use color coding as alerts to communicate that the KPI needs focus.


4. Who says you can't use pictures in your dashboards? You have to respect the fact that even big decision makers like pictures, they are like children :)


5. Finally, it's a wow factor when there is an interaction medium- a button to click on for further drill down, "share your comments" button that leads to a sharepoint database, or just a "Need Help?" button that when clicked automatically sends the user somewhere else either to get more insights (linking to different reports when drilling down), getting help (an outlook email immediately popping up alerting the analyst) or a comment on performance so it serves as an insight in the next business review.




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