What is a Dashboard?

After data has been collected, manipulated and analysed, the following step in the data science process is to communicate the findings. Typically, this would involve writing a report, giving a presentation, or designing an infographic. While these are perfectly reasonable solutions, we believe that the dashboard is one of the most effective ways of communicating data in business.

To put it simply, a dashboard is a visualisation tool that is used to convey quantitative or qualitative data. This information is displayed in a single-screen user interface (UI) that provides an interactive mechanism for users to extract relevant insights.

The user varies depending of the type of dashboard and business requirements, however, they are typically a decision maker seeking prompt access to as much relevant information as possible. The dashboard supports the attainment of an assured, evidence-based conclusion.

Dashboards offer several advantages, including:

·       Interactivity — allowing sorting, filtering and drilling of data, with tool tips, highlighting etc.

·       Centralisation — bringing data together from multiple sources into one visual display

·       Current — presenting the most recent data available

·       Automated — programmed refreshing of data and alerts

Types of Dashboard

In data analytics, a distinction is often made between exploratory and explanatory analysis. Dashboards tend to belong to the exploratory category, as their primary aim is to allow users to gain a greater familiarity with data. In Stephen Few’s influential book Information Dashboard Design, he outlines three types of dashboards:

The strategic dashboard

Intended for executives and managers, the strategic dashboard provides an aggregated overview of key performance indicators (KPI’s) to ensure performance, targets and strategy correspond. The strategic dashboard shows a broad view of what is happening in the company, sometimes displaying projected forecasts to see where it is heading. An example can be seen with the Healthcare Performance Dashboard in our showcase.

The strategic dashboard can be made more interactive, incorporating scenario modelling, what-if analysis functionality, in which different outcomes are simulated based on adjusting certain metrics or events, typically with a slider. An example of this can be seen in the Mixed-Use Property Development Dashboard on the showcase.

The analytical dashboard

Intended for the analyst, this dashboard allows users to drill down or aggregate up a data hierarchy to gain a comprehensive, detailed breakdown of metrics, with the ability to apply numerous filters to the data. This enables thorough investigation of data, for instance, allowing the user to pinpoint exactly what is driving a recent rise or fall in performance. An example of the analytical dashboard is the Housing Performance Dashboard, in the showcase.

The operational dashboard

Normally intended for those in operative roles, this dashboard provides a means to monitor current processes to ensure operations are running smoothly. In this type of dashboard, data are typically short-term and instantaneous. A crucial function of the operational dashboard is to alert users to abnormal behaviour, allowing the possibility of a swift response. An example of the operational dashboard from the showcase is the Housing Officer Alerts Dashboard.

A comprehensive dashboard can incorporate each of these dashboard types into one place, library or app. Though, when designing a dashboard, one must be careful not to have the dashboard do too much, as it often overwhelming for the user and yields poor results.

As Wexler, Shaffer and Cotgreave note in The Big Book of Dashboards (2017), there are no perfect dashboards. It is not possible to display the perfect collection of charts that’s suits every person that encounters it; which is why it is important to have a specifically defined audience in mind when designing the dashboard. A successful dashboard is clear and intuitive for the user, balancing appearance and intention with time and efficiency. Every decision made is a compromise.

Summary

To summarise, dashboards are visualisation tools that communicate information effectively in an interactive and engaging manner. They allow users to explore data, investigate trends, monitor processes, report on KPI’s and plan for the future.

Check out our dashboard showcase for examples of dashboards that we have created at Musgrave Analytics.