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Why We’re Swimming in Dashboards and Drowning in Data By: Josh Good on May 10, 2021 Leave a Comment

Knowing how to use a dashboard is table stakes in the enterprise. Information technologies generate countless volumes of data from multiple sources, and dashboards are meant to harness all of that information, reduce the noise and display the stats you need to do your job. Yet businesses are still struggling to unlock the value of their data, with over half of global businesses (57%) claiming they can identify and capture just 70% of their data, according to a study conducted by IDC and commissioned by Qlik.

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As in “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” there is water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink. Enterprises are inundated with dashboards and still struggle to make effective decisions with the information in front of them.

The Limits of Analytics

There are many reasons why a dashboard may communicate ‘bad’ or ‘useless’ information. Analytics can’t do it all. A data pipeline may be parched with too little data or flush with the wrong kind of data, limiting the volume and/or value of outputs that can be drawn into the dashboard. The organization may be heavily siloed, rationing the range of information available to the dashboard. Or, the tooling itself might be inadequate for leaders to quickly respond to opportunities and disruption.

When a decision-maker looks at a dashboard, they want to see things as they could be, as well as how they are. That requires a dashboard that depicts the data itself, but that also generates views of, for example, how it looks when sales activity in the Southwest is increased in the face of a weather event or other externalities. Results don’t have to be taken at face value – they can be analyzed more carefully and intuitively to uncover meaningful insights.

Investigatory analysis is what modern, interactive dashboards and applications are all about. They support non-linear exploration and search and provide advanced features, such as augmented analytics, to help subject matter experts explore data and generate insights without relying on IT, data scientists or expert analysts. Interactive dashboards also make it possible for business intelligence to be truly self-service, simplifying aspects that were once limited to experts working in much more complex environments. They give all employees access to the insights they need to make better decisions, regardless of their skill level, essentially democratizing analysis across organizations.

How to Choose the Right Dashboard

For any business looking to really expand decision making across the business, here’s how to find a dashboard suited for investigatory analysis:

Accessibility and timeliness: In the past, business users who wanted insights had to submit a request to an analyst, wait for their turn in the queue and go back and forth answering clarifying questions before they could review a dashboard and make decisions. The process took too long, and insights came too late. With modern, interactive dashboards, users can explore all their data using interactive selections (filters), search, and NLP (natural language processing) powered by AI. In the end, they can ask and answer all their questions leading to informed decisions.

Flexibility: Modern dashboards are not just static displays of content with limited filtering. They are rich analytics applications that provide unmatched interactivity and exploratory power. Business users aren’t limited to rigid, linear analysis on partial subsets of data. Instead, they have the freedom to explore all their data however they like. Analytics are always in context together, giving users peripheral vision, and all data relationships are exposed – including what’s related to your selections and what’s not.

Performance: Interactivity should be driven by outcomes. Novel techniques to optimize and store data, index and understand relationships and deliver high-performance calculation all help to go beyond the limits of query-based and RDBMS architectures. Interactivity should also be enhanced with AI to deliver next-level analytical power, in new forms, across a full range of user experiences.

A Crucial Tool in the Stack

Turning data into business value is what a dashboard should—and can do—for the business. When a business user looks at a static dashboard or visualization, they usually end up with more questions than answers. To make an informed decision, they need to go through a process of questioning and evaluating – and then questioning again – an interactive display of business-critical trends until the right insight is fully uncovered. This iterative process is unique to every user and their lines of thinking, and modern dashboards allow all users, beyond data experts and analysts, to build visualizations and queries.

In addition to creating business value, interactive dashboards help rally key stakeholders in organizations and allow them to act quickly to changing market needs. Take, for example, a major luxury fashion retailer; parent company of three well-known apparel brands. Their businesses hinge on having the products consumers want and need, when they want and need them. Their assortment planners need to analyze their sales mix and inventory mix by product attribution to identify mismatches and, more importantly, understand the drivers behind the mismatches to make more accurate inventory recommendations. Interactive dashboards allow them to investigate their data in different ways and ultimately inform strategic decisions for the business moving forward.

In addition to empowering users to transform data into business value, dashboards ultimately drive the need for data literacy. Sharing dashboards throughout all levels of an organization fosters a data-driven culture by encouraging exploration of data – and that’s how new discoveries and innovations can be made.

So while some say the dashboard is dead, I say long live the interactive dashboard.


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