Dashboards: Cool tools or sensory overload?

Jun 21, 2011 | Skip to comments » | Share | |

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part series on Dashboards.  In Part 1, we will look at defining dashboards and how and what information can be found on a dashboard.  In Part 2, we will discuss Dashboards relative to Information Architecture and how to make Dashboards an effective management decision-making tool and not a hindrance to you or your company.

There is a common business term out there called “information management”: the gathering of information and data from multiple sources and then aggregating and translating that information into useful information for one or more persons or groups.  This process had also been referred to as “business intelligence”.  Every business has particular key performance indicators (KPIs) or critical data that not only affects the decisions made on a daily basis but also on a strategic long-term basis.  The speed and accuracy at which meaningful data is reported directly impacts the speed at which decisions are made.  Therefore, does the person manage the information, or is the information managing the person? 

In today’s global business environment, with new colossal markets opening in China and India and economic conditions finding many managers doing the work of what 2 or 3 used to do; the need for accurate, up-to-the-minute information at one’s finger tips is more and more crucial.  The new questions in the competitive landscape are:  Who knows the answer fastest? Who can get that answer to market the best to close that new business?  This is where Dashboards become a helpful decision-making tool.

The premise of a dashboard is having information is displayed in the form of a graph, odometer gauge, chart, or spreadsheet.  A Dashboard will offer high-level information, displayed in an easy to read and interpretable format.  High-end solutions are customizable and have drill-down reporting where charts, links and buttons are available for the business manager to access detailed data specific to that subject.  Many software packages have dashboard reporting built in as functionality like Sales Force where one can compare regional sales or to see who is buying the most from you.  Google has many dashboards that you can configure to watch keywords, page visits and which section of your website is the most profitable.  Large database entities such as Oracle provide customizable dashboards relative to production levels, quality control or inventory turns to name a few.

There are also customizable solutions that can be developed through web-based solutions using integrated API (Application Programming Interface) calls that gather information from multiple software packages into one screen that can be read and reviewed on mobile solutions such as smart phones and tablets.

When looking at all the possibilities of dashboards, and decision-makers begin to see information sooner, faster and how they want it, there is a tendency to want to fill a screen with gadgets, gizmos and visual pictures of every bit of data possible. This is when dashboards can do more harm than good.

The average adult can process about seven pieces of information at the same time and absorb and process that information effectively.  If seven is the upper load for an adult, then when nine, twelve or fourteen charts and graphs are crammed into a screen, there is a lesser chance that the already taxed brain can effectively process the information and make a decision.  It has been proven that the average human only uses 10% of their brain, so processing fourteen pieces of information is plausible, even possible, but that takes some serious brain exercises to get to that point, and by then, the competition has passed you by.

So how do you determine what information to have on your dashboard?  How do you pick and choose?  This next step leads us into Information Architecture and we will discuss this answer in Part 2.



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