Gaining Value From Dashboards
Uncovering Hidden Problems
Reporting and analysis tools are used to track business performance
and trends and uncover problems that need attention. However, sometimes
a business problem is shrouded in layers of data, and is not readily
identified at the summary level deployed in many reports.
Even more advanced reporting tools using ad hoc query and OLAP
analysis require the user to provide the direction of focus, based
on a prior indication that there is a problem to uncover.
Data visualization tools are more adept at exposing these deep,
dark secrets. Dashboards have the distinct advantage over traditional
reporting, in that in one page of graphics they can represent tens
of thousands of rows of data aggregated at multiple dimensional
Business intelligence [BI] tools allow users to interrogate data
with business questions. Reporting, whilst still the foundation
of business intelligence, is designed for those questions posed
on a regular basis to identify performance in areas such as sales,
supply chain etc. Most web-based reporting support interactive drill
down and use of filters to refine the data set, and gain more information
about the summary data.
BI analysis tools [ad hoc query and online analytical processing]
are designed to support more random questions. They generally require
more training and skill to use and a reasonable guess as to where
the answers to questions may reside.
Most companies use a combination of reporting and analysis. Much
of the power of these tools comes from powerful features such as:
- Drilling – drilling down to identify
further information. For example, a Sales Margin x Region report
may be drilled down to find out which product category made up
a particular margin, then drill down to identify the exact products
etc. Drilling can also be horizontal – from Region A Sales
Margin Report you can drill over to Expenses to help identify
why the margin is better than other regions or to Campaigns etc.
- Filtering - to select only the records relating
directly to your target. For example, all products with profit
margin above 15%, all stores in Northern region with weekly sales
in excess of $250,000
- Sorting – helps to find the top or bottom
performers more easily. Or for alphabetical listings.
- Pivoting – used to split data into groups.
For example, Annual Sales may have pivots to provide quarterly
figures with summary year to date total.
- Calculating - allows you to do on the spot
comparisons, totals and splits. For instance, comparing revenues
to profit or determine profit by subtracting costs from revenue.
- Charting - provides a visual representation
Each of these functions can be used in conjunction with each other.
For instance – you may initially drill down, then apply a
filter, sort, calculate then chart the result and save as a published
report. This will allow you to track the exact scenario you created
over the results period.
Next: Dashboard Design
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