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Business Intelligence (BI) Dashboards: Everything You Need to Know

Written by

James Watney

Posted on

March 30, 2022

Once you start seeing BI as a competitive advantage, you can't postpone getting the right business intelligence solution for your company. Because there are endless possibilities for turning data into valuable insights. 

Especially when your data isn’t presented in silos but combined with other metrics to paint a comprehensive picture of your business performance. 

Business intelligence dashboards allow your whole team to review data as interactive snapshots. The following guide discusses everything you need to know about BI dashboards, from what they are to how to choose the right one for your business.

Table of Contents

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What is a BI dashboard? 

BI dashboards are much more than a visual representation of your data. They offer powerful, at-a-glance, dynamic snapshots of your performance based on KPIs. They can also help you identify your strengths and areas of opportunity.

BI dashboards come in all shapes and sizes. Some examples may include supply planning, customer or HR demographics, sales KPIs, crucial financial metrics, or performance forecasting.

Example of a BI dashboard on Trevor.io.

Main benefits of BI dashboards

Your fast-growing business will benefit from business intelligence dashboards in a number of ways. Here’s how BI dashboards will benefit you:

  • Make data-informed decision-making part of your business culture. Business.com reported that data-driven business decisions make companies 6% more profitable. Fostering a culture focused on data will lead to smarter choices and higher revenue.
  • Be more efficient. Your time is valuable. Cleaning raw data every time you need to make an informed decision is senseless. A BI dashboard that updates in real-time will free up time for you to focus on other tasks.
  • Align teams and goals. People perform better when they have clear objectives. Presenting them with their KPIs in a shared BI dashboard will make them all swim in the same direction.
  • Democratise data. Making data accessible to everyone despite their technical background shortens the decision-making process. It also reduces bottlenecks in your organisation. 
  • Understand the story behind the data. Clients want to see data. Especially when it’s there to prove something different to what they believed to be true. Asking for approval, or exposing a win using data will make your case stronger.
  • Use customisable dashboards for different target audiences. A dynamic BI dashboard will help you customise your data to every need and with the level of detail that the end-user requires. With Trevor.io, you'll be able to turn dashboards into detailed reports in just a few clicks.

Related article: Your Ultimate Guide to On-Premise Business Intelligence Solutions

Types of BI dashboards 

Before creating a BI dashboard, you need to delimit the problem you’re trying to solve and who the users will be. Once you have a clear definition of those two, you can work on creating one of these types of dashboards

  1. Strategic BI dashboards. 

Use this to provide a high-level analysis of your business. Strategic BI dashboards are usually aimed at C-level executives. They’re mostly used to share real-time data that tells the story of business performance. These aren’t recommended for day-to-day business decision making.

  1. Operational BI dashboards. 

Unlike strategic dashboards, operational business intelligence dashboards contain updated and detailed query responses. So, if you must review your KPIs on a day-to-day basis or evaluate the performance of a certain project, an operation dashboard is the right call. This type of dashboard is useful for junior to senior managers.

  1. Analytical BI dashboards. 

Analytical dashboards contain different data points for specialists to review. The information in this dashboard is usually more difficult to understand at first sight. They're meant to provide a deeper and more detailed understanding of your data.

  1. Tactical BI dashboards.

Tactical business intelligence dashboards are highly interactive, detailed, and segmented. These are mostly used by department or product managers to review the performance of specific metrics.

BI dashboards vs reports 

It’s common to confuse BI dashboards with business reports. Ultimately, they’re both visual ways of displaying business insights. However, business intelligence dashboards are highly interactive and contain valuable data insights. Some of the key differences between dashboards and reports are: 

  • Reports are usually focused on metrics, while dashboards focus on insights. For example, a sales report can include the name of each customer, time on a page, and conversion information. A BI dashboard can include a summary of how many people converted after spending X amount of time on your page.
  • Reports are usually presented in the form of tables while dashboards use  visualisations. One of the biggest benefits of a BI dashboard is its ability to generate colourful charts, maps, and graphs to tell a story.
  • Dashboards are interactive while reports are usually static documents. Dashboards offer stakeholders the flexibility of visualising and testing different data-based future scenarios. Reports, however, do not enable real-time editing but instead share previously analysed data.

Dashboards and reports have different pros and cons, so it’s rarely a case of picking one or the other to present insights. Often, you might need both to make your case or provide extensive data to stakeholders.

Evaluating and choosing the right software for your business needs 

The market is crowded with business intelligence software that might serve your business, so choosing your BI tool can be tough.

When choosing a modern BI solution, you need to review much more than pricing and features. You’ll need to answer these questions: 

  • What do you want to achieve with it? Do you need it to connect to multiple data points? Does the BI solution you're considering support your data sets? Do you want to customise it, or do you need a BI tool that's easy to set up?
  • Who’s using it? Is everyone getting access? Do you need multiple accesses and a granular security model? Do you need everyone to have access to the raw data?
  • What’s your budget? Does the solution you have in mind fall into your price range? What happens if your business grows? Some BI solutions are charged by the user and limit the number of queries. Trevor.io grows with you and offers unlimited users and queries for a monthly fee. 
  • Do you need extra support? Can your team handle the workload? Don't underestimate the amount of time and support you’ll need to set up one of these tools. Especially if it will result in your engineering team having a workload increase. 

Top BI dashboard software 

The variety of BI dashboard software tools can be overwhelming. And while all options seem like a great fit at first, not all will be.

You'll find Apache Superset, Metabase, Tableau, and Power BI to be amongst the most popular BI platforms. Yet, users complain about their lack of flexibility without having SQL knowledge.

Trevor.io offers a self-service BI solution that allows all users to answer queries in a few minutes despite their coding knowledge. Users can just drag and drop filters to access data. Trevor.io is also highly scalable and offers both on-premise and cloud-hosted solutions. It's also ideal for fast-paced and growing businesses since it's a budget-friendly solution.

Related article: 6 Affordable Alternatives to Geckoboard That’ll Take Your BI Dashboards to the Next Level

Dashboard software features 

BI dashboards have several benefits for your business. These dashboard features will help you unlock them. 

  • Data filters. Show the data segments you need by filtering the information. Use this feature to make different combinations of metrics in the same dashboard.
  • Drill-throughs and drill-downs. Allow the BI dashboard user to visualise data in more detail. 
  • Chart zoom. Change the scale of the graph's axis to review data with more or less detail. 
  • Real-time updates. Set automatic updates for your BI dashboards, this way you’ll always have the most updated version of your data available.  
  • Automations. Live-stream results to Google Sheets, set automatic Slack alerts, share data automatically with other apps.
  • Cross-device accessibility. Access your dashboards from any device when using a cloud-hosted BI tool. 
  • Visualise relationships. Generate interactive diagrams of your information to understand the relationship between data points.
  • Sharing and embedding options. Keep your stakeholders informed by sharing a public or private URL or embedding visualisations in other platforms.

Examples of BI dashboards 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to BI dashboards. Showcasing your data in a visual way that serves your business can be as personal as a fingerprint. Yet, here are some examples of dashboards to help spur your creativity. 

  • Status report dashboards. This example uses different data points to help decision-makers act rapidly.
  • Healthcare supply dashboards. This visualisation allows nurses to review how many days' worth of PPE they have in each location. This type of dashboard can be reapplied for any supply chain.
  • University demographics dashboards. They offer an at-a-glance view of their application's demographics and historical university data.
  • Financial status dashboards. It goes from high-level to detailed information. Plus, it shares crucial financial business information.
  • HR dashboards.  This allows tactical team members to review HR KPIs in a snapshot but also double down when needed.

How to create a BI dashboard 

Business intelligence is not going to change the course of your business by itself. But the way you utilise it to create interactive dashboard designs will. Here are seven steps you should follow to create an effective business intelligence dashboard:

  1. Create your business intelligence dashboard with the right end-user in mind. BI dashboard creation involves tailoring your information to the target audience. 
  2. Know what type of dashboard you need. Following step one, choosing the right type of dashboard is the natural next step of the process. Do you need to make a strategic, tactical, analytical, or operational dashboard?
  3. Connect to the right data sources. Data feeds your dashboards. Connecting them to the right sources will turn your data from stand-alone silos into insights.
  4. Connect data visualisation elements that tell a story. Dashboards are a visual representation of data. Make sure you use the right graphs, colours, and data to tell your story. 
  5. Identify which data features will be most useful for your audience. Whenever you’re making a BI dashboard, make sure to circle back to your target audience. Who’s reviewing it? What information will they pay attention to? If you're using Trevor.io, make sure you use the filter function to aim your dashboard to different audiences.
  6. Think about colour. This paints a picture in the stakeholder's mind. It’s not the same to see a dashboard filled with red-coloured data as seeing the same one painted green. 
  7. Get feedback. BI dashboards are meant to be useful, and save time in the decision making process. Prepare yourself to gather feedback from users and act upon it to improve it as much as you can.

Best practices for creating really useful BI dashboards 

BI dashboards are fascinating, but not magical. You need to put a lot of thought into their creation. Here are some of the BI dashboard best practices that will help you make the most out of your dashboard. 

  1. Make your dashboard readable and uncluttered. BI dashboards are visual because it’s an easier way of digesting information, especially for busy audiences. Adding unnecessary metrics derails their purpose.
  2. Include data that provides context. A data point by itself will never be as powerful as when it’s compared against another metric. Comparing a negative result with the previous month can tell a very different story than seeing a negative result by itself. 
  3. Add interactive elements. BI dashboards are noble. When done right,  they can help you meet the expectations of everyone in the room. Interactive elements allow you to do that in just a few clicks.

Related article: 7 Databox Alternatives to Help You Make Data-Driven Decisions

The importance of data visualisation

One of the main differences between business intelligence dashboards and reports is the way you display your data. However, there’s science behind why BI dashboards are effective to review large sets of data. 

According to a Microsoft report, the average human attention span has dropped from 12 to 8 seconds since 2000. This means that if you overcrowd your dashboards with numbers and text, your audience will inevitably get distracted. 

That is, without taking into account that leaders, CEOs, and decision-makers usually get bombarded with information that requires their action. That’s why visually presenting dashboards can improve their usability. 

Choosing the right business intelligence tool for storytelling

Now you have a solid understanding of BI dashboards, it’s time for you to choose a BI solution that fulfils your business needs. 

If you're a business with a large budget and an engineering team with spare capacity, tools like Tableau, PowerBI, Looker and Apache Superset might be right for you.

But, if you're a growing business with a small data engineering team, you'll feel right at home with Trevor.io or Metabase. They are bost budget-friendly, easy to set up and use.

Trevor.io can transform your messy data into digestible, visual and interactive dashboards. It also requires zero SQL knowledge, and users from all backgrounds can play around with it without putting your data at risk. Metabase works in a similar way, but it might get a little tricky whenever you need to create more complex queries since you’ll need to have SQL knowledge.

As a busy professional, you don’t have time to access your BI tool every day for status. That's why Trevor.io brings the data to you with automated snapshots Slack notifications. That way you can access your data analytics whenever you want and wherever you are.

Want to see if Trevor.io would work for your team? Try it free for 2 weeks!