The UK is seen as a global leader in the driving and adoption of business intelligence and, traditionally, dashboards have been seen as the ‘holy grail’ of data visualisation. However, that sheen is slowly disappearing with organisations tired of spending time learning how to use technically complex programs and having staff spend the time deciphering what’s presented in a standalone dashboard instead of focusing on important business decisions.
Why standalone dashboards are becoming the ‘dead end’ of data
A signature weakness of dashboards is that they require an inefficient and focus-intensive deviation from a user’s central workflow. Dashboards also lack inherent analysis or guidance; they describe what has occurred but don’t prod users to make decisions or recommend particular choices based on data. That’s the missing link for companies to become truly data-driven.
What if, however, the problem with standalone dashboards is that they are standalone apps? What if dashboards – a curated mix of specific, practical insights from data – could sometimes be the right tools to augment decision-making, if only we could deliver them at a user’s point of consumption?
This is the key to rethinking dashboards, and analytics as a whole. We need to shift our focus to a user’s workflow and context first, and then the insights they need and how they should be delivered, second. When we prioritize analytics in this order, we find that dashboards are simply one of many ways to deliver insights from data to knowledge workers, and there are scenarios where a dashboard is, in fact, still the best way to help them make the right decisions.
‘Driving’ better decision making
One common everyday example of a dashboard is the tool in our vehicles that we literally call a dashboard – and it is the perfect tool for the job.
Here’s why: Drivers are continuously making decisions when behind the wheel -whether to speed up, slow down, adjust the wheel, how to adapt to road conditions or even the state of the vehicle itself. These decisions can be life-changing and would be incredibly dangerous if we relied solely on intuition without hard data to help us. This is where dashboards are critical. They provide key insights by presenting multiple metrics that drivers can take in at a glance and then immediately use to alter the vehicle in real-time.
There are many similar real-time business scenarios where the dashboard is the right way to embed insights from data: Energy utilities want to track consumption and allocation. Hospital emergency rooms need to manage supplies and watch patient diagnostics. Warehouses must orchestrate the movement of thousands of goods, vehicles, and personnel.
In these scenarios, we need a curated set of specific insights precisely where we need to take action. Dashboards can help workers be in and out, taking in real-time insights at a glance, making decisions, and seamlessly repeating the process again and again.
Unlocking the power of the new collaborative dashboard
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, many business professionals walked the halls of their offices, passing by TVs presenting dashboards of company KPIs. Some businesses may return to connecting in the office, while others will meet virtually through online meeting rooms, collaborative apps, and company portals. Many will do both. These shared workspaces represent a type of collective point of consumption, a place where teams of workers make decisions together, and they are a prime location to embed insights from data in the form of dashboards.
Shared dashboards are the perfect way to deliver analytics for groups for two reasons: First, dashboards contain the same set of metrics, no matter the viewer. This helps groups of people stay on the same page. Teams of employees can track their collective progress. Board rooms can advise executives based on the same set of company metrics. Even public companies are required to provide specific quarterly numbers (although often in the form of raw tables, unfortunately) so public investors can act on a level playing field.
Second, shared dashboards are asynchronous, allowing teams to stay informed about critical, but less urgent insights based on their individual workflows. This enables teams who must take action collectively, such as in a meeting, to act together as one. At the same time, others who simply need to be informed can remain focused on their work without distraction. In the end, the whole organization remains on the same page, at everyone’s own pace based on their needs.
A new era of business intelligence
With each successive generation of analytics and business intelligence, we move where we get insights from data closer to where we use those insights to make decisions. This is how we increase analytics adoption, and why we must always prioritise people’s workflows and points of consumption. The way people work should inform how we should deliver analytics to them, and not the other way around.
Take analysts, for example, whose work is to make sense of data. It is not a separate application; it is their main one. It makes sense then, for them to spend their time in dashboards and BI tools. For salespeople, a dashboard could be useful when they first sign into their CRM, getting a quick overview of their progress towards their quota, or which accounts to follow up with. For doctors, mechanics, or facility managers, dashboards at a glance can be critical to their jobs. In each instance, the dashboard is a sensible way to deliver insights based on the user’s workflow and context.
The future is data-driven
There’s no question that being data-driven continues to become an essential component of business innovation that drives growth. In a recent survey by International Data Corporation (IDC) on behalf of Sisense, 66% of business leaders said the ability to deeply embed analytics into applications and processes was very or extremely important to them.
Ultimately, how we present insights from data is just one of several choices. Going beyond the dashboard doesn’t mean eliminating dashboards entirely, in the same way there are specific instances where we need IT-led reporting.
The future is simple: Find where knowledge workers take action, and then find the right way to present insights to augment their work. In some cases, the dashboard will be the right choice, and people will make smarter, more informed decisions as a result. This ultimately drives efficiency, accuracy and supports business growth in today’s fast-paced, ‘big data’ digital environment.
Editor’s note: This article is in association with Sisense