A woman checking on her computer

What is a data dashboard?

A data dashboard is a tool businesses use to help track, analyse, and display data, usually to gain deeper insight into the overall wellbeing of the organisation, a department, or even a specific process. Behind the scenes, dashboards connect all kinds of different metrics, data sources, APIs, and services—and they help companies extract relevant information from those sources and display it in user-friendly ways.

Why data dashboards are important

Not unlike a car’s dashboard, data dashboards organise and display important information at a glance to help you understand your company’s most valuable data and unearth answers to crucial questions. By connecting dashboards to specific metrics or key performance indicators (KPIs), you gain vital business intelligence and the ability to dive deep into specific pieces of information to continually monitor success. Just like in a car, dashboards indicate how far along you are on your journey and how long it may take to get where you want to go.

What can I do with a data dashboard?

Part of a dashboard’s power lies in its ability to provide up-to-date information and context to help inform business decisions and empower employees. For example, an IT team could use a dashboard to help detect signs of a security breach. Or, a business could embed the dashboard into an app or mobile device for firstline workers—who are out in the field—to ensure they always have the data they need, when they need it.

Dashboards also help answer essential business questions like:

  • How many deliveries did we do this week compared to last week?

  • Which of our three products drive the most revenue? Which items should we promote?

  • Where does most of our website traffic come from?

  • How do our buyers find us?

  • Is our marketing funnel working? Is it on target?

The benefits of data dashboards

Dashboards are meant to provide a quick, easy data visibility you need to start improving your business right away. Of the many ways to create and use dashboards, the following examples illustrate some of the major benefits:

Performance measurement

Customisable dashboards allow your business to set specific KPIs that help you track the information you need to see how you’re doing in multiple areas and across departments. You may want to understand whether groups are meeting their goals, whether marketing pieces are working as anticipated, or what the most popular restaurant dish is.

Data transparency and accessibility

Dashboards bring different kinds of data together to display key metrics and insights in a way that’s digestible enough for everyone to understand—and whether or not they have access to backend data. By dismantling potential data siloes, everyone within an organisation has visibility into how different areas perform—and everyone becomes empowered to help the business improve.

Agility

Dashboards are designed to help detect changes within a business, both positive and negative, often in real time. When you see something new as it happens, you get the opportunity to quickly change course if needed—or even get ahead of emerging trends.

Forecasting

If you embed predictive analytics powered by artificial intelligence (AI) in your dashboard, you create a powerful tool for shaping your business’s future. Dashboards, especially those powered by AI, help you compare historical data to understand trajectory, create more accurate sales forecasts, plan territories more strategically, and help departments determine the right path forward to meet their goals.

The importance of KPIs

KPIs are an essential part of dashboard architecture. You need to know where you are now in order to know the best step to take next. When choosing your dashboard’s KPIs, select only the ones that help answer your primary question—not so many that it dilutes your data, but not so few that you don’t get an accurate picture.

Examples of dashboards

Data dashboards help you understand almost every component of your business, from whether your pricing is right to how much revenue your sales team brings in. Listed below are several examples of dashboards and the types of information they offer for tracking relevant KPIs.

Embed default screen of Employee dashboard

Employee dashboards

  • Customer support or IT tickets closed per hour

  • Billable project hours per teammate

  • Hours a team took to complete a given project

Embed default screen of Sales dashboard

Sales dashboards

  • Sales funnel compared to previous years

  • Total sales pipeline pounds

  • Average time it takes to make a sale

Embed default screen of Financial dashboard

Financial dashboards

  • Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, or amortisation

  • Operating cash flow

  • Net profit margin

Many great examples of dashboards help inform business decisions every day. For instance, your employee dashboard might indicate you need additional resources on a given project to reduce overtime, or that you need to change your approach to selling a certain product if you want to meet your financial goals.

How to create an effective data dashboard

Effective data dashboards require strategy and thoughtfulness. A dashboard serves a very specific purpose, and both the design and the KPIs you choose are highly consequential. Consider these best practices to improve your dashboard’s efficacy.

Use real-time data

Many dashboard tools offer automation enhancements that capture data in real time to share across your organisation or specific work groups—or even embed analytics into mobile apps to ensure it’s where your employees need it—when they need it.

Know your audience

Dashboards need to be intelligible to anyone who uses them. For example, some departments require precise figures, while some need to see trends. Use your best judgment.

Stay consistent

To make your dashboards easily navigable, ensure consistency in functions, filters, colours, and styles. Establishing a consistent look and feel to dashboards helps users find information faster.

Group data logically

Keeping like data together helps users navigate information more easily, particularly when different users within different departments use the same dashboard.

Dashboard mistakes to avoid

To ensure your data dashboards accomplish your goals, avoid these common data dashboard pitfalls:

  • Not creating a clear goal for the dashboard

  • Implementing too many KPIs per dashboard

  • Using low-quality data

  • Representing data in the wrong type of graph or chart

  • Presenting too much information in one dashboard

  • Using a cluttered, confusing, or inaccessible design

What to look for in dashboard software

Choosing the right dashboard tools for your business means knowing what kinds of insights you need. Use the questions below as you begin to evaluate dashboard options:

  • Does this tool require any prerequisite skills (such as coding) to use?

  • How difficult is it to analyse data in this tool?

  • How does this solution protect my data?

  • How will it help me visualise the data?

  • Will this software work with my existing tools and processes?

Once you have a better understanding of your dashboard solution needs, it’s time to consider which solutions offer the best capabilities. Many excellent dashboard tools offer different options for data visualisation, customisation, and collaboration—while also working with a variety of operating systems to help you get the most out of your data.

To help your business stay ahead of the curve, consider dashboard tools that infuse each part of the process with AI. Intelligent, or “smart,” dashboard software makes capabilities like predictive analytics, real-time data, data science processes, drill-down capacities, and even risk alerts possible. These cutting-edge offerings help you understand your data better, faster—and help you become a data-driven organisation.

Intelligent data dashboard scenarios

Smart dashboards give organisations more ways to visualise and implement data—not just in retrospect, but in real time—as that data changes. Layered with advanced AI and machine learning capabilities, intelligent dashboards help you understand information in more meaningful ways. Take a closer look at some possible scenarios where AI enhances how data gets used:

Making accurate predictions

While predictive analytics won’t let you see the future, they will help you predict potential changes in the market, consumer behaviour, or identifiable business risks. These kinds of insights help your business make informed decisions, prepare for what’s next, and invest time, effort, and money accordingly.

Automating processes

When you’re dealing with big data, you need all the help you can get. Intelligent dashboards automate processes related to data discovery, preparation, replication, collection, reporting, or even data warehouse maintenance. This lets users avoid slicing and dicing data manually, resulting in more accurate information and significant time savings.

Choosing the right solution for you

Whichever data dashboard solution you choose, make sure that it provides the data clarity your business needs to stay on track and reach your goals. Now that you understand the power of dashboards and what it takes to make them effective, you’re ready for the next step. Learn about a leading data dashboard solution today—Microsoft Power BI.