A business intelligence dashboard is a data visualization tool that displays the current status of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) for an enterprise. Dashboards consolidate and arrange numbers, metrics and sometimes performance scorecards on a single screen. They may be tailored for a specific role and display metrics targeted for a single point of view or department. The essential features of a BI dashboard product include a customizable interface and the ability to pull real-time data from multiple sources.
Oracle and Microsoft are among the vendors of business intelligence dashboards. BI dashboards can also be created through other business applications, such as Excel. Business intelligence dashboards are sometimes referred to as enterprise dashboards.
The business intelligence dashboard is often confused with the performance scorecard. The main difference between the two, traditionally, is that a business intelligence dashboard, like the dashboard of a car, indicates the status at a specific point in time. A scorecard, on the other hand, displays progress over time towards specific goals. Dashboard and scorecard designs are increasingly converging. For example, some commercial dashboard products also include the ability to track progress towards a goal. A product combining elements of both dashboards and scorecards is sometimes referred to as a scoreboard.
Dashboards often provide at-a-glance views of KPIs relevant to a particular objective or business process (e.g. sales, marketing, human resources, or production). The term dashboard originates from the automobile dashboard where drivers monitor the major functions at a glance. Dashboards give signs about a business letting you know something is wrong or something is right. The corporate world has tried for years to come up with a solution that would tell them if their business needed maintenance or if the temperature of their business was running above normal. Dashboards typically are limited to show summaries, key trends, comparisons, and exceptions. There are four Key elements to a good dashboard:.
1. Simple, communicates easily
2. Minimum distractions…it could cause confusion
3. Supports organized business with meaning and useful data
4. Applies human visual perception to visual presentation of information
Early predecessors of the modern business dashboard were first developed in the 1980s in the form of Executive Information Systems (EISs). Due to problems primarily with data refreshing and handling, it was soon realized that the approach wasn’t practical as information was often incomplete, unreliable, and spread across too many disparate sources. Thus, EISs hibernated until the 1990s when the information age quickened pace and data warehousing, and online analytical processing (OLAP) allowed dashboards to function adequately. Despite the availability of enabling technologies, the rapid rise in dashboard use didn't become popular until later in that decade, primarily due to the rise of key performance indicators (KPIs), introduced by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton as the Balanced Scorecard. Today, the use of dashboards forms an important part of Business Performance Management (BPM).
Dashboards can be broken down according to role and are either strategic, analytical, operational, or informational. Strategic dashboards support managers at any level in an organization, and provide the quick overview that decision makers need to monitor the health and opportunities of the business. Dashboards of this type focus on high level measures of performance, and forecasts. Strategic dashboards benefit from static snapshots of data (daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly) that are not constantly changing from one moment to the next. Dashboards for analytical purposes often include more context, comparisons, and history, along with subtler performance evaluators. Analytical dashboards typically support interactions with the data, such as drilling down into the underlying details. Dashboards for monitoring operations are often designed differently from those that support strategic decision making or data analysis and often require monitoring of activities and events that are constantly changing and might require attention and response at a moment's notice.
An image of dashboard
Main tenets of good Dashboard Design best practices and are as follows:
I. Provide insight, not reports.
When a key user drops off a stack of Excel spreadsheets in response to your request for “requirements”, take the time to understand what results they are trying to derive from that content. Understand what they search for, what they mark up with a yellow highlighter, and what they look at next after discovering an exception. With the best practices that follow, you’ll discover that you can offer multiple ways of providing insight from the same content packed into one Excel spreadsheet (which offered no insight, just data); and that you’ll be able to compact multiple Excel spreadsheets into a single, flexible report module that can fit into the upper left hand corner of a dashboard. Column selectors, view selectors, and bubble charts are not complex. If you think they are, see Tenet #3.
II. Protect your real estate and eliminate the white space.
Unlike printed reports where you can get away with saying “the answer is on page 42”, the same is not true for online dashboards where you will most likely be restricted to what you can fit into an 1024 x 768 pixel screen (or 1024 x 2304 if your dashboard is three pages long). If your users can’t derive insight in the first few seconds of looking at a dashboard, the design could use improvement. If your dashboard has large patches of white space, it will look incomplete to the users and you are wasting space. If you believe that it’s impossible to fit meaningful content into 1024 x 2304 pixels, go check out popular Internet portals like MyYahoo, Google, or MSN.
III. Trust your users will get it.
Most users in today’s business world are familiar with browsing the web and the typical controls used to shop, bank, research, and consume information. Controls like dropdowns, buttons, checkboxes, and text fields are all used on popular sites throughout the Internet – and on OBIEE, too! Trust your users. If you’ve followed rules #1 and #2, your users are going to get it.
IV. Merge business skills into your IT skills.
In order to create the insightful reports we discussed in Tenet #1, report designers need to know more than what the business users are asking for on a report. A highly successful BI project will have designers who know the business side well and can develop new reports and enhance existing ones without explicit instruction from the business users. In Business Intelligence, we need to move away from simply asking what the user wants the report to look like and what data they want in the database. We need to move toward understanding the business processes and determining what data and reports will bring the insight the users need. Once you’ve gotten to know the processes driving the reports, you can make suggestions to the users on what they need to be successful. Most of your users have no idea what kind of reports Oracle BI is capable of producing when utilized to its full potential. With a time spent getting to better know the business, you’ll be able to deliver powerful, insightful reports the users hadn’t considered or didn’t even know were possible.
V. Design your dashboard (and insight) in Oracle BI itself using an iterative methodology.
Dashboard design requires multiple iterations to be successful. Business users often don’t know or realize what they want until they can see something they like or something they recognize needs to be changed. It’s important that you have a plan in place during the build process that allows for several levels of refinement. This plan should include a sound strategy for capturing and documenting user input, prioritizing the changes, and determining the complexity. Careful planning of this process will ensure that all iterations run smoothly and add as much value as possible.
VI. Be prepared to review, refine, and re-do.
After you’ve rolled out your BI project, if the implementation is viewed as a success by the users, you’ll notice that BI slowly becomes more pervasive throughout your organization and is eventually no longer thought of as BI - it’s simply part of the way the business is run. But the business focus can change, processes change, needs change. A periodic review should be done to asses whether the dashboards are still meeting the needs of the business as well as when they were first deployed. Refinement may be needed to evolve the dashboards with the business, and sometimes even more dramatic re-do’s are necessary.