Unfortunately, most vendors that provide dashboard software have done little to encourage the effective use of this medium. They focus their marketing efforts on flash and dazzle that subvert the goals of clear communication.
They fight to win our interest by maximizing sizzle, highlighting flashy display mechanisms that appeal to our desire to be entertained. Once implemented, however, these cute displays lose their spark in a matter of days and become just plain annoying.
An effective dashboard is the product not of cute gauges, meters, and traffic lights, but rather of informed design: more science than art, more simplicity than dazzle. It is, above all else, about communication.
- Stephen Few, Information Dashboard Design, O’Reilly, 2006
Amazingly this comment is still pretty much true even today. But it doesn’t have to be. The next generation of effective dashboards are closer to a mixing panel of a music studio than plain, static dashboards we see today. And we at nextCoder are going to make sure that you business leaders are well-informed about it.
Recap: What is a Business Dashboard?
Nowadays you see fancy dashboards in cars that rival a desktop computer, almost. But what does the most basic dashboard in your car actually do? It tells you, the driver — in real time, at least these four information:
- How fast are you going (the odometer)
- How far can you go (tank full of gas or almost empty)
- Alerting you to pending breakage (weak battery, engine oil empty, engine needs checking)
- Alerting you of what is going on (turning signal, headlamp indicator)
Running a business, just like driving a car, requires your full attention in real time, but unfortunately, a business does not come with a built-in dashboard the way cars do. Either you have to build one yourself, or have someone build it for you.
And just like a car dashboard that is connected at all times to the sensors that feeds it with data, a Business Dashboard is connected to the data sources located either within your business or coming from outside sources.
The information that you receive from a Business Dashboard is actually pretty similar:
- How fast is the business growing? (is it growing in the right direction?)
- How long can the business last given the current situation?
- Are we paying too much to our vendors/suppliers?
- Are we serving our customers the best we could?
- And many, many more
But … believe it or not, as useful as knowing all of these are, that list merely covers the basic usage of a Business Dashboard. If we stop at this level, we are missing the full potential of what the next generation of dashboards can do for us.
What is brewing?
Thanks to the ever-increasing popularity of game-changing web technologies such as jQuery, HTML5/CSS and the growing list of charting and/or visualization libraries, we enjoy the power of data visualization unlike any other computing era before.
The new way to develop dashboards allows us to produce dashboards that will rival web-applications in terms of information flow. Gone are the days of static, read-only dashboards. Say “Hello” to the new generation that takes interaction to a whole new level:
- Built in mapping: With the numerous and Geocoding API available for us to use, it is unthinkable that a dashboard should be without one. Most businesses could benefit from geographically-mapped data. Imagine being able to visually see where your products are being purchased, or your technicians on their service routes, or your suppliers to optimize material or component shipments. And many more uses.
- User Inputs: Ever seen a dashboard that is not read-only? If yes, you are in a good company. More and more executives, managers, customer support personnel ask that they are able to punch in data in real-time. Why do they have to switch to another application to do that? We at nextCoder agrees.
- User-specific Business Rules: Lets face it, a business owner or CEO has his or her own “rules” that allow them to determine whether the business is doing okay or is it floundering. These “rules” are not for everyone to see and for a very good reason: Panic prevention (just kidding… a little bit). But the fact remains, if a dashboard cannot even contain user-specific rules, then we are shortchanging the users. Plain and simple.
- External Data: A lot of smaller businesses assume that just because their data volume is not gigantic, they do not have any use for aggregated data analysis. This was true in the past, not anymore. Today, there are volumes of data about any businesses, but it does not originate within the business itself, rather, the vast social-media network. You could be surprised at what your customers broadcast about your product or service to their friends and family, good and bad. And for the sake of your business, monitoring it is a good course of action.
These are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what a Business Dashboard is capable of serving with the current technology. Our goal is to deliver these features to our clients with each dashboard we build for them. In the next blog entries, we’ll have a peek on how to do just that.