What Are Enterprise Dashboards and Why Should I Care?


What are enterprise dashboards? Well, dashboards are simple-to-understand, visually-oriented depictions of the current state of the metrics and key performance indicators of most importance to your business. Of course, they borrow from the “cockpit” or “dashboard” metaphors that are so easy to “get”.

Here’s a screenshot of a typical dashboard:

Dashboard HTML Template

Nice layout, right? Do you want a copy of the HTML for it? It will save your developers weeks of tweaking code. To get a free copy of the html template, just sign up for my newsletter. Use the form to the side of this post. There’s no cost and I’ll send you 2 other cool layouts as well.

Business dashboards have become the universal front-end of business intelligence. From the production line worker on the manufacturing plant floor, to the sales force in the field, and all the way up to the CEO and CFO in the boardroom, everyone gets their metrics served through a dashboard these days. All enterprise reporting software use the dashboard layout as the home page view of the data. The business intelligence dashboard is easy to embrace, popular to develop and here to stay.

A word about business dashboard software and technology:

Don’t get hung up on the technology. Things don’t have to be complicated. Using Microsoft Excel is an excellent way to start business dashboarding. You can certainly use it to prototype and you may find it good enough to stick with for a very long time.

Here are 2 great resources on using Excel Dashboards:

Excel Dashboards: Templates and Ebook on Creating Excel Dashboards

Excel School for Dashboards

Are you new to the world of digital dashboards? Want to learn more about them?

Here’s how to start:

Key White Papers About BI and Dashboards

Gartner Magic Quadrant Report on Business Intelligence Platforms

Microstrategy’s Business Intelligence Platform for zone-based layout for scorecards and dashboards

More Business Intelligence White Papers (excellent way to research the business dashboard landscape)

Key Books on Enterprise Dashboards

I’ve been following the business dashboard space since the beginning. In addition to designing and building some of the first really major dashboard applications, I’ve had the pleasure of being the consolidator of dashboard project artifacts for many teams across many industries. Those with me at the beginning remember me having to swear secrecy in exchange for getting a “secret screenshot” of a hush-hush dashboard project (hence the moniker “Dashboard Spy”!). I’ve watched the development of the growing niche of dashboard books. Here are some of my very favorite:

First off, every once in a while, you should search Amazon for new books on the subject. Here’s a link that will bring up the latest books on enterprise dashboards:

Amazon Page of Dashboard Books (My favorite place to purchase books or anything else)

And here are some recommended books (be sure to browse inside the books with the “Look Inside” function):

Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data by Stephen Few (This is a great book on the principles of information visualization.)

Business Dashboards: A Visual Catalog for Design and Deployment by Nils Rasmussen (Really, really great book of examples)

Project Management Metrics, KPIs, and Dashboards: A Guide to Measuring and Monitoring Project Performance by Harold Kerzner (This is nirvana for project management dashboard geeks. I wrote a section in this book!)

Here are the latest books (both coincidentally on the SAS platform):

Building Business Intelligence Using SAS: Content Development Examples by Tricia Aanderud

SAS/GRAPH: Beyond the Basics by Robert Allison

Key Blogs to Follow

Here are a couple of launch points to learn more about business dashboards:






Key Dashboard Software Vendors to Check Out


InetSoft Construction Management Dashboard

A new Dashboard Spy friend, Michael Schiff, at InetSoft submitted this dashboard example. Click on the image to enlarge it.

Interactive version available here.

As explained by Michael:

This display is a perfect example of why we need dashboards in today’s world. Behind this colorful showing of charts and sliders are thousands upon thousands of data points. Spreadsheets are not easy to read – dashboards are.

The entire design philosophy of a dashboard is based on speed.

Consolidating data into a purely visual format allows users to identify trends and make informed decisions far quicker than analyzing numbers.

This dashboard gives a complete overview of a fictional construction agency. It tracks all the metrics related to running that company, using a series of input and output elements.

The selection lists, drop down menu, and calendar allow the user to modify the outputs on the charts. If, for example, a user would like to know how many accidents there were in California between July and August, they can tweak the dashboard appropriately.

Try this dashboard for yourself at this link here or see our professional design tools at http://www.inetsoft.com.

Build an Executive Dashboard with Google Analytics

This video explains how to create a high level view for executives to use to understand traffic patterns on a company website.

The video show how to set up various widgets and reports that allow drill down examination of the data. Pay particular attention to the Executive Dashboard setup and how the left side displays the marketing funnel statistics (unique pageviews, unique visitors, engaged visitors and RSS subscribers).

The TopGear Infographic

Studying interesting infographics can have a broadening effect on the way you think of portraying data and information. A really cool infographic can really take some time to study. Take a look at the TopGear Test Track Infographic that summarizes 18 seasons of high performance car testing. Take a look at the main graphic and then click on the link to get the large pdf version.

Here is the pdf of the full size infographic:


What They Do Not Teach About Entrepreneurship

This excellent panel discussion focuses on what they DON’T teach you about entrepreneurship in business school. This group of successful entrepreneurs reveal what they learned in real life business that they never could have been taught in school. They also discuss what courses were actually most helpful to them and also what courses they wish they took but didn’t.

Strategy Maps Guide for Managers

This excellent video discusses the use of strategy maps by individual managers in an organization. It gives examples of strategy maps, explains what a strategy maps is, and offers potential pitfalls as well as best practice pointers.

A strategy map is an extension of the Balanced Scorecard and was created by Kaplan and Norton.

Reasons for using strategy mapping include advantages across several categories. When properly executed, strategy maps:

Create a line of sight between individual efforts and organizational objectives.

Translate strategy to operational terms.

Align people and action.

Help put a value on things traditionally viewed as “hard to measure”.

A Quick Course in Balanced Scorecards

Here’s a quick tutorial on Balanced Scorecards. It’s absolutely free and you can use this link for a direct download of the pdf version of the course: The Balanced Scorecard: Step by Step Guide to Build a Balanced Scorecard.

Here’s a quick look at the overall process of building a balanced scorecard:

The process consists of seven steps over three phases:

  • Phase I: The Strategic Foundation
    • Step 1: Communicate and align the organization around a clear and concise strategy. This is the fundamental starting point behind everything else. Your strategy is what“feeds” the Balanced Scorecard.
    • Step 2: Determine the major strategic areas or scope for getting the organization focused on those things the organization can actually do.
    • Step 3: Build a strategic grid for each major strategic area (step 2) of the business. Out of all the steps in the entire process, this can be the most difficult since we must take our entire strategy (step 1) and transform it into specific terms that everyone can understand. And everything must be linked to form one complete strategic model.
  • Phase II: Three Critical Components
    • Step 4: Establish Measurements: For each strategic objective on each strategic grid, there needs to be at least one measurement. Measurement provides the feedback on whether or not we are meeting our strategic objectives.
    • Step 5: Set Targets for each measurement: For each measurement in your scorecard,establish a corresponding target.
    • Step 6: Launch Programs: Things will not happen unless the organization undertakes formal programs, initiatives or projects. This effectively closes the loop and links us back to where we started – driving the strategy that was formulated in phase I.
  • Phase III: Deployment
    • Step 7: Once the Balanced Scorecard has been built, you need to push the entire process into other parts of the organization until you construct a single coherent management system. This pulls everything together, allowing successful execution of your strategy.

And here’s a look at some of the tools in the course:

Really Big Bar Charts

Michelin Infographic.

Sometimes a very straight forward approach in data visualization is all you need. Let’s take a look at this comparison of the cost of having lunch at the best restaurants in Great Britain as ranked by Michelin. Well, maybe all you really need to do is to stack a really big bunch of bar graphs and call it a day!

Read more about this Michelin infographic here: http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/2012/6/4/eat-at-the-best-british-restaurants-for-less-than-you-think.html

Multiple Language Infographics

Information visualization analysts in countries with multiple language preferences by the user community have to work harder than the rest of us. Here’s a look at an infographic that comes in an English language version as well as the original Hebrew version.

This one in particular makes for a good example. You don’t just have the challenge of translation, but all the left to right, right to left parsing issue. It’s almost twice the work!

You can read more about this infographic at this link: http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/2012/6/5/market-and-competitive-intelligence-trends.html

Infographic about competitive intelligence

Hebrew Language Infographic

A Roundup of Business Analytics Commercials

Business intelligence and business analytics platform marketing is getting slicker and slicker. We are seeing a rash of high production value commercials for various BI software and analytics platforms from the major vendors. We also see service offerings being advertised this way. Here’s a look at a couple of these spots.

This first one is from CapGemini and it titled “Business Analytics and Big Data: The Battleground for Competitive Advantage”.

And here is one from IBM called Designed for Data. It’s part of their i for Business series.

This one is in a super wide screen format and is also from IBM. It’s called Business Analytics: Turning Data into Insight. It starts off with a very interesting fact: All the data in the world that existed up to 2003, we generated now in two days.

And this pitch for support, training, and consulting services for IBM Business Analytics from Inca.

Music Video for Java Programmers

I missed this when it came out at last year’s JavaOne 2011. Oracle had this “Java Life” rap video created for marketing purposes. It’s a lot of fun.

The first video below is the music video. The one below that is “The Making of Java Rap”.

And here’s a bonus video:

Plus, of course, you know what this is: