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


Gartner 2014 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Business Analytics

A Dashboard Spy reader and I were discussing our predictions for the rankings of Business Intelligence platforms likely to be found in the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence and Analytics report. These annual reports get published by Gartner in Q1 of the year.

Another reader asked if we could post the current year results. For reference, here is the Magic Quadrant for 2014.

2014 Magic Quadrant for BI

2014 Magic Quadrant for BI

Click here to view the full report:

Gartner 2014 Magic Quadrant Report for Business Intelligence and Analytics Platforms

The report details Gartner’s opinion of each vendor including the strengths and cautions that they feel most important. I find the cautions particularly important.

It’s very instructive to compare Magic Quadrant diagrams from different years.

Here’s the 2013 Magic Quadrant for BI:

2013 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence

2013 Magic Quadrant for Business Intelligence

The implications of this year’s report and the trends of previous years was brought to my attention via this great must-read post:

Jen Underwood on Gartner 2014 BI Magic Quadrant

She highlighted these helpful diagrams from PivotStream:



Scorecards and Dashboards – Is there a Difference?

Is there really a difference between a scorecard and a dashboard? I’m of the opinion that it’s only a matter of syntax or semantics. I think that dashboard is a wonderful term that includes all manners of scorecards, performance measurements and other sorts of at-a-glance kpi and metric info.

But I do get the point that the term dashboard has become somewhat diluted. I always point out the term “Dashboard” will become the “Homepage” replacement. I can’t think of anything better than a dashboard to put on the homepage. What software application wouldn’t benefit from having a dashboard as homepage?

One person that takes the viewpoint that there is indeed a difference between “dashboard” and “scorecard” wrote an article titled “WHAT IS the Difference Between Performance Management Scorecards and Dashboards?” You can view it here.

Here is the illustration they use. Take a look at this simple health dashboard:

health performance dashboard

Here is what they use it to illustrate:

Imagine that we have a dashboard that displays 3 health metrics: weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol for the person below. Let’s call him healthy Henry. A well designed dashboard can be an extremely powerful and critical tool for any business. However, there are limitations. We can see Henry’s weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol, but we have no context to put it in. We don’t know if the numbers are bad or good. OK, we know they are pretty bad; but are they bad for Henry? We also don’t know if they are trending up or down, or if there is a target number and how close or far from that target Henry is. It’s possible that Henry is improving or simply staying the same. It is also impossible to derive exactly where the problems are coming from. This is the problem with a dashboard, there is no context.

Performance management scorecards look at the world differently. A performance scorecard is a representation of the progress over time. The key difference is that they provide context into where the metric comes from, using something called a KPI (key performance indicator.) KPIs can be stand-alone numbers or calculations derived from other numbers. The important factor is that they show the user not just the “What’” but the “How” and “Why.” Let’s go back to Henry and look at his Scorecard.


We can see how well Henry is doing this week relative to last week and overall relative to his goal. For example, Henry only ate 14 burgers this week, compared to 18 last week. Although he has not yet reached his goal of only 5 burgers per week, we can see from the green color coding under “progress” that he is improving. However Henry was called into his son’s principal’s office 4 times this week, which is worse than last week, thus the red color code.

This chart also illustrates which KPI inputs into which metric on the dashboard. For example Burgers Eaten affects Weight and Cholesterol, while Yoga affects Weight and Blood Pressure. In this manner, a health manager, or any manager, can use these tools to decide which metrics are important to the desired outcome.

kpi metrics scorecard

Now apply this to a business. For example, the manager of a customer service operations might care about Productivity and Quality. KPIs that could be used as determining factors include throughput (# of items processed/calls taken), adherence to schedule (% time in production vs. schedule), and items flagged for rework (not done correctly the first time.)

In this way, a manager can make better management decisions by focusing on the KPIs that matter. Then the manager can use the Dashboard for period check-ins, and the Performance Management Scorecard for more strategic decisions. When Dashboards and Scorecards are used correctly, the health of the business, and Henry, can improve.

So, what do you think? I like the story about Henry, but I’m not really sure it makes the point of there being a real difference between scorecard and dashboard. To me, a dashboard can indeed contain performance measures shown over time. Look at the hundreds of successful dashboard examples found on the Dashboard Spy blog.

Fitness Dashboard with Live Scorecard

Once in a while, an enterprise dashboard screenshot reveals its true genius and value only after it sits in our brains for a while. Take a look at this fitness dashboard to see what I mean.

This was grabbed from a marketing page on a website for Orangetheory Fitness. I don’t know what the site or the business is about but I grabbed this screenshot of a person exercising in front of an executive dashboard of sorts.


My first thought was how cool it was to have access to a large dashboard while exercising. Visions of checking KPIs and metrics while working up a sweat in the corporate gym flashed through my mind. But I was being silly. The true genius of this scorecard is in the social aspects and the effect it would have on the dashboard user.

Let’s walk through this use case:

Bill starts working out and sees that his goal is such and such. He’s reached a certain level or sees that his KPIs are whatever. But the real effects come when he compares himself to the others in the gym. See how this dashboard can bring up the competitor in the dashboard users? Get it? Now it has the power to keep the user engaged and working harder to show better metrics and rankings.

It took me a while to catch onto the social effects here. I think this is a brilliant use of a dashboard in a real-world environment. I’m going to look at more examples.

The Dashboard Spy

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