Build Better Software

The Truth About Business Intelligence Tools

Separating dashboard fact from fiction

by Jay Hogan

DashboardA great dashboard transforms data into actionable insights, but with dozens of BI products to choose from, and the option to build a custom solution, selecting the best one for your business can be overwhelming. In this myth buster, our dashboard expert warns of hidden costs and feature bloat. 

Myth:

Drag-and-drop dashboard building tools make it easy and cost effective for anyone to build a dashboard.

Reality:

While out-of-the-box tools like these may sound like the obvious choice, one-size-fits-all products often fall short of expectations. They either offer so many features that you can't find the ones you need, or they offer most of what you need, but are missing a key feature — limiting the tool's power for your specific purpose. Plus, they require trained experts to configure and maintain the tool. Even the slightest modification to an off-the-shelf product adds cost. Lastly, when you're comparing prices, be sure to consider the total cost of ownership, including how many licenses you'll need — the per user price tag escalates quickly.      

Myth: 

The more features a dashboard has, the better it is.

Reality:

Great user experiences are built on useful and flexible features and design. Avoid using unnecessary features that add complexity, but keep in mind that usefulness is in the eye of the beholder. What's important to one user is often insignificant to another, and vice versa. Radically simple dashboards provide succinct, at-a-glance visuals that layer context on top of data. That's what you're going for.

Myth:

Dashboards are all about data.

Reality:

Data is good, but data-driven decisions are even better. And that's what dashboards are all about. Your organization is probably swimming in data, but a bigger data lake isn't necessarily a better one. Data agility refers to the ability to layer context over your data, and turning it into insight — which is exactly what the dashboard user wants. For example, rather than simply reporting this month's sales as an isolated number, a well-designed dashboard contextualizes that data with an up or down trend line, showing you where sales stand in relation to where they've been — and maybe even how fast they're changing.       

Myth:

Dashboards are just pretty status updates.

Reality:

There's a big difference between something that looks good and something that works well. The best dashboard designers study users and identify their pain points. They interview stakeholders and invite them to collaborate. Most importantly, they test. Again and again. Each test provides them with feedback, which turns into features, and ideas that become improvements. That said, looks do matter — and drive adoption rates — so be sure your dashboard design isn't an afterthought.

Myth:

Your dashboard data must be housed in a data warehouse.

Reality:

You don't have to wait for the corporate data warehouse project to finally complete before building a dashboard. Many busi­ness intelligence products can pull data directly from the source if necessary, and custom dashboard applications can pull data from nearly anywhere. Check to see if your source systems offer integration options such as APls or scheduled data exports — that may be all you need to unlock the potential of your data. 

Myth:

When it comes to dashboards, your only choices are commercial off-the-shelf or fully custom solutions.

Reality:

Now you have another option — one that gets you a bespoke product at a fraction of the price, with a faster time to market. After years of developing award-winning dash­boards, SingleStone now offers a propriety platform that provides the repeatable infrastructure every effective dashboard needs. On top of that, we build a custom user interface to meet each use case, and connect our clients' applications and data with connectors from our proprietary library. This hybrid development approach marries the convenience of commercial products with the craftsmanship of custom tools, empowering you to make better business decisions — faster.  

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Jay Hogan
Jay Hogan
Application Development Lead
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