The Dashboard Dilemma

Why the coming dashboard inflation does not solve everything.

A post from former Webtrekk CCO

Ralf Haberich

the dashboard dilemma visual

Dashboards have quickly transformed from a luxury to a necessity. Inspired by the need to visualise data for executive management, nowadays pretty much every department is clamouring for data that is digestible in a glance.

But while dashboards are no doubt an upgrade over spreadsheets, not everyone will understand the details – let alone know what they should do with the data.

So as dashboards multiply, the life of an analyst will get easier and harder at the same time: easier thanks to faster, cleaner dissemination of data; and harder thanks to requests popping up from people who are suddenly part of the data ecosystem.

Visual Webtrekk Dashboard

Just one colourful way to show data: Webtrekk's new personalised dashboards.

The easier the data to merge, the more the top-level is involved, the more company data is interesting to company employees, the more dashboards you will see in your daily work.

That leads to the following assumption:

Visual Webtrekk Dashboard 2

The quantity of dashboards will increase year by year, project by project. This will get more brains thinking in the language of data, which is a good thing, but will also give voice to people who never handled data in the pre-dashboard days.

Therefore, if a dashboard of the future does not come with recommendations, it will be useless. Recommendations about what to do next or even what to expect next – if doing A instead of B, etc. – will be every bit as important as engaging design.

Visual Webtrekk Dashboard 3

Data action is the key element missing from most of today’s dashboards. The next step of the dashboard evolution – one that must happen sooner rather than later – is including smart recommendations to further improve the communicated numbers.

The bigger the surface of the triangle below, the more you will need to find a solution to communicate data in a meaningful way:

Visual Webtrekk Dashboard 4

Apply this to your current situation: How easy is it to integrate data in your analytics tool? How easy is it to merge data? How engaged are you or your colleagues with company data? How many power users versus normal users would you have in your company? How involved is top management in understanding and acting on data?

If power users are focused solely on analytics, you might not even need dashboards: They would already know what the data tells them.

Dashboards will solve old problems (merging and visualising data in a comprehensible way) as they create new ones (introducing complexity outside of people’s normal comfort zone). They are a turning point that change how we consume data, not a tipping point that enable anyone-and-everyone to suddenly be an expert analyst.

Brainpower will still be needed to dive into data deliverables, expertise will still be needed to link different sources and create a more powerful overview.

A dashboard that turns pure figures into colourful visualisation might be a nice first step, but will also not solve your mission: maximising profit, acting on data, recommending future actions.

How dashboard-ready are you?

Let's talk