Informational dashboards evolved from the Executive Information Systems (EISs) also known as Executive Support Systems (ESSs) that were developed in the 1980s. Development of warehousing and Business Intelligence (information technologies focuses on reporting and analysis) provided the required information to support the visual interface.
Later on a new approach to management introduced in the 1990s the Balanced Scorecard that includes the use of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) gained significant attention from the business community and forced them to look for tools that may help to easily and effectively monitor performance.
What is a dashboard?
To cut it short, a dashboard (informational dashboard, visual dashboard, data dashboard, business dashboard, etc.) is a single screen display of the most important information related to a certain task or work.
It can become a powerful way of communication if it is designed well.
It can let you monitor and control instantly the most important information and make decisions based on it.
Alternatively, a poorly designed dashboard may become a reason for the poor decisions taken in the company.
What is not a dashboard?
To avoid confusion let’s point out what is often mistakenly taken for a dashboard though it is not.
A report used to look up specific facts
Yes, such reports may contain some visualizations to display selected information. They should have filters and other tools allowing to select information required for the moment. But looking up facts is quite different from performance monitoring when a display should provide information at a glance without having to select it by the user.
A display for data analysis
It is an environment specifically designed for exploration and analysis and contains all the tools, all flexibility, and interaction required for these tasks. Users should not use a dashboard for such purposes.
A dashboard should inform users about something and, ideally, should allow shifting directly to the data analysis interface.
A balanced scorecard
It is an entire general-purpose performance management system. As users need to monitor the performance as a part of the balanced scorecard process they may use a dashboard to do this particular task.
Unlike a dashboard which is a performance monitoring display, a portal is a single point of access that may contain a great variety of information, tasks, links, including for example daily tasks, top news, calendar, weather forecast, list of messages, etc. The main purpose of the portal is to provide easy access to the things that the user often needs. Different purpose means different design.
If you need to scroll – it is not a dashboard.
If you use two, three displays for the performance monitoring, it means that you are using two, three dashboards.
Why is visualization better than text?
Visualization enables you to process swiftly large number of information.
Try to count the letters “g” in the following text.
Try to accomplish the same task, just after some visual effects are applied.
Figure 3 allows you to accomplish your task faster, and almost with no effort from your side. Moreover, most probably, that seen the Figure 3 you might do the calculations of letters “g” or at least pay attention to the letter “g” without my asking, or even if I asked you not to. Just based on your intuition.
In his book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman describes System 1 which may be referred to as Intuition.
‘System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. You cannot prevent System 1 from doing its thing.‘
This means that visualization can influence the users and make them see what is required before they even know they are seeing it.
We can describe five main so-called preattentive attributes, which at the level of intuition signal us where to look and help us to figure out the differences.
Preattentive attributes are very useful in quickly directing users’ attention to where it needs to be focused.
While text and tables interact with our verbal system, visual displays interact with our visual system, which is way faster at processing information.
This means that by using well‐designed visualizations, we can enable users to quickly see and understand a relatively large volume of data.
How do dashboards help?
For certain jobs and tasks to perform well you want to be constantly aware of the situation. You need to know what is going on. One of the ways of rapidly receiving required information is a dashboard.
It allows you to receive information easily and efficiently, so you can quickly understand the situation and, having projected the possibilities, act accordingly.
Dashboards provide more control over the data and allow users to identify trends, spot anomalies, and figure out why the information they see appears.
In the same way as other methods of communications dashboards may fail to communicate or even may confuse the users. Therefore dashboards must be designed mindfully.
The dashboard should be tailored specifically to the needs of a user, a group, or a task. A properly designed dashboard provides great support in the monitoring process.
Offering an effective way to meet a very real need for information, dashboards at the same time help users to deal with information overload.
A dashboard is 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.
In our world of increasing data, dashboards strengthen the performance monitoring process and lead to a significant improvement of the decision-making process.
Zettaflow aims to provide the tools for creating effective dashboards. Most of our features are accessible for free.