Everyone loves dashboards, and the modern automobile has seduced us into thinking they are easy to build and maintain. The real world, however, is more complex. Here are some factors to consider when selecting and constructing a dashboard for your organization.
- Data Availability. Dashboards rely and report on underlying data. If the data aren’t available and regularly updated in your system, your dashboard won’t function as a living reflection of your organization. What data does your database hold? Look at the fields in your database – it is those fields that are available for a functioning dashboard.
- System Integration. Dashboards are merely compilations of available data – while there are many visually appealing dashboards, be sure that they integrate smoothly with the database your organization has selected to hold your data. Too often, systems with robust data management capabilities are not stellar when it comes to graphical data representation. Tools that provide visually-appealing graphics may not have the most robust data sources to communicate with your database. You need a dashboard application that will integrate well with your existing data sources.
- Graphics are lovely. To be meaningful, however, they should point to actions. Each metric your organization reports on should be accompanied by threshold values and action plans. For each metric, what range is considered acceptable, and what level should trigger a response? What is the action plan should a metric fall above or below a certain level? Metrics without action are data without meaning – knowing the meaning behind the metric will spark adjustments, rather than mere reflection.
Effective dashboards capture underlying robust data, and present that data in a visually appealing and accessible way. Dashboards work best when they are built on accessible data, and when the “therefore what” is well known, and ready to be acted on.