• Graham Wilson

Do dashboards solve all your data and reporting issues?

The goal of every business is to grow, and business intelligence plays a crucial role in this process. Visualisation and tables are a simple, intuitive way to convert raw data into meaningful information. It certainly is easier to get the bigger picture by looking at a set of visuals than to flip through endless columns or hundreds of pages.

Popular analytics dashboard software providers promise that you can simply plug into any data source and generate effective reporting to inform business decision-making, but is it really that simple?

Visualisation tools provide an easy way to draw attention to the important points, but they can have their limitations. One of the major disadvantages analytics dashboard tools present is a lack of reliable data cleaning/wrangling procedures. The software assumes that the data you are pulling has already been cleaned and prepared and is of the highest quality possible. If that is not the case—and for many businesses starting out with dashboard analytics it really is not—any insights drawn from their reports are bound to be compromised.

Even for the Market leaders in analytics dashboard software, large data sets continue to be a problem. Tools are plagued by slow performance and time-outs which makes it difficult to analyse bigger data sets. Additionally, there are problems with drawing inferences. Even the most well-designed dashboard can only provide you with one side of the picture: the information presented needs to be interpreted by humans in order to get business insights. Context matters significantly when it comes to making sense of business data, be it in raw format or via a visual dashboard. Data discovery is also more or less accidental, which compromises replicability. What this means is that even if you do discover an insight today, it is near impossible to recreate your steps and discover the same thing tomorrow. Dashboards are simple—deceivingly so. They are helpful for visualising data and getting a sense of the bigger picture, but they should not and cannot completely replace business analysis. They operate on the assumption that any data fed into them is cleaned and “wrangled”, while this often is not the case. With lower quality data or data spread across many databases, a certain amount of “data plumbing” needs to be done to prepare the data for visualisation. In fact, preparing data for analysis normally takes up to 80% of the time allotted to a project. Ideally, you’d like to have the data stored in a central location, where you can easily update and change it to ensure any insights are future-proof. The right elements of data need to be extracted and structured in a useful way for reporting before the data even reaches the visualisation dashboard. Finally, if you want to ensure replicability of these insights (and save your team a significant amount of time and effort), the entire process needs to be automated so you can do it daily. This is not to say data visualisation dashboards aren’t useful. They can be handy tools to get business insights and drive smarter decision-making, but to extract actual value from them, you do need to build these data reporting foundations so you can fully enjoy the benefit of visualisation clean, structured, relevant data.

If this is familiar to you and your business please get in touch and we can offer advice to help you transform your business’ reporting processes.

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