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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 levels.

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 of data.

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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