Over the past decade, the emergence of visualized data, or dashboards, has grown in popularity within organizations. In the early stages, visualizations consisted of simple graphs and charts usually utilizing a 3 stage color system to reflect the state of the metrics. Today, visualizations have become more and more complex, using more advanced analytical charts or graphs, and allowing users to access more detailed data.
With an exploding marketplace for visual reporting applications and the confusion in the industry as what a dashboard is, it is understandable that many organizations find it difficult to incorporate visualized data into their organizations.
What is a dashboard?
First, let’s define what a dashboard is. Steven Few, a leading dashboard architect, defines a dashboard as “A visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”
A dashboard should be highly summarized data, that allows the users to quickly identify how the subject area is performing. A dashboard is not a detailed report.
Choosing The Right Solution For Your Team and Requirements
There are many choices when it comes to a data visualization tool: Tableau, Qlikview, Power BI, SAP Lumira, SAP Dashboards. The list seems endless, and more are becoming available each year. So how do you know what tool is right for you? Your requirements.
Many times, when we work with our clients, a tool has already been identified for use with their visualized data. During requirements gathering and storyboarding we find that the application of choice doesn’t best fit their needs. As with any development project, gather user requirements first. Not just on the data needing to be presented, but also how the user will interact with the data.
One of the first questions I like to ask is, “How is the visualized data to be used? How interactive will you be with the data?” This allows me to gauge what the user is looking for. Are they looking for a dashboard or are they just looking for a pretty report?
With a more complete idea of what data is needed, and how users will interact with it, begin at looking at the applications available to you and your organization. Ask yourself the following questions while evaluating each application:
- How well does this application incorporate with my existing BI systems?
- What level of security can I apply to the data?
- Am I restricted to a set of visual components (i.e. charts, graphs, maps)?
- What is the skillsets needed to create a dashboard?
- Are you restricted by time constraints?
Design Your Data Visualization Dashboard To Provide The Right Insights For Every User
After choosing your visualization software, become familiar with its components and features. Layout a rough design, or storyboard, of the final dashboard before working in your application. On average, 60-70% of your time should be spent during this phase designing the layout of your dashboard and how users will interact.
A good tool for use during your design phase is Balsamiq. Balsamiq is a wireframing tool that allows you to mock up software. You can find the download here.
Once you start development within the application, periodically seek out feedback from an appropriate end user. Once the concept comes to life, changes or improvements may be made. Depending on the software you choose, those changes may affect your overall design and how you proceed forward.
 “Dashboard Confusion”, (March 20, 2004), Stephen Few