An effective business intelligence (BI) dashboard is crucial for helping business executives and employees from various teams to see and analyse data, take away actionable insights, and assess performance measures. But what is a BI dashboard, and how do you make one?

Firstly, a BI dashboard is a data management and data visualisation tool that provides its users with an integrated view of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and other data points valuable to your business.

Creating a BI dashboard using cloud or on-premise dashboard software will make life easier for you and your teams, but there are a few pitfalls to avoid, including:

  • Bombarding team members with too much information
  • Confusing the user with too many widgets 
  • Densely presenting the information
  • Not providing the right type of information
  • Including over the top visualisations 

The best BI dashboards are highly customizable, made for the right audience, and contain only the necessary data and visuals. 

In this step-by-step guide, you’ll learn how to create your BI dashboard in a way that empowers all your teams to make data-led decisions while avoiding common dashboard pitfalls. Plus, you’ll learn what features to look out for when choosing the best on-premise dashboard software.

Table of contents

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Step 1: Target your business intelligence dashboard at the right audience 

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating your BI dashboard: it really depends on the problems you want to solve. But the first step to creating an effective BI dashboard is always identifying who the dashboard is for.

Begin by defining the typical dashboard user persona. Familiarise yourself with their expectations and with the solution the dashboard will provide. This will help you understand what information needs to be presented, how complex the solutions can be, and how they will need to be visualised. 

For example, if you’re preparing a BI dashboard for senior management, that dashboard will have to give a more long-term view and include business insights for long-term strategic planning.

However, if you’re creating the BI dashboard for junior management, the information you include will be more short-term and provide detailed performance insights for day-to-day decision making. 

If you create a BI dashboard for a team of marketers that presents them with highly technical and comprehensive business analytics data, you’ll confuse users with too much unnecessary information. The data will feel cluttered, defeating the purpose of a BI dashboard.

This table explains and compares the four different BI dashboards by who uses them, their main purpose and features, and what each one doesn't do.
The 4 Types of BI Dashboards

To deeply understand your target user, conduct extensive research into the intended user persona before you begin the work of creating the dashboard itself. Find out their key performance metrics and what sort of questions they’ll use the BI dashboard to answer.

Keep in mind that you need to visualise the data in a way that your end-users can relate to and understand. More on that later.

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

Step 2: Know what type of BI dashboard you need 

Now that you know the intended audience of your BI dashboard, it’s time to work out what type of dashboard you need. 

If you don’t have the right BI dashboard, your team won’t understand how to benefit from it, meet their goals, or make strategic decisions using the data, even if you’ve integrated the most comprehensive data analytics into your dashboard.

For this step, you need to know about the four types of dashboards in business intelligence, who they cater to, and why.

The four types of BI dashboards are:

  1. Strategic dashboards. These are perfect for senior managers because they provide high-level metrics and data analyses for making long term business decisions and planning.
  2. Operational dashboards. These provide real-time metrics and are used for day-to-day decision-making by junior managers.
  3. Analytical dashboards. This type of dashboard is suitable for data analysts who need access to comprehensive business analytics data to identify underlying trends.
  4. Tactical dashboards are generally used by middle management to receive comprehensive analytics on specified data sets and are highly interactive within limited ranges of data.

When choosing the appropriate type of business intelligence dashboard, look out for interactive, customisable solutions that allow you to explore different configurations. This will help you pick a dashboard that’s best suited to your unique intentions.

If you’re still unsure, explore some examples of business intelligence dashboards to help you understand which dashboards meet different needs.

Step 3: Connect to the right data sources

After choosing your intended audience and dashboard type, it’s time to connect your dashboard to the right data sources.

To create an effective BI dashboard, it’s important  that your BI software supports your data sources and the type of data you’re using. Your data might come from various sources like HubSpot, SQL databases, Excel files, or CSVs. Trevor supports databases such as Snowflake, PostgreSQL, Panoply, Microsoft SQL Server, MongoDB, and more.

As some BI platforms don’t support raw data, this means the data needs to be cleaned beforehand which can be time consuming and difficult. However, self-service BI software like gives you the option to connect raw data, allowing for speedy out-of-the-box setup. 

Connecting to the right data sources could be the difference between empowering or frustrating your team. So take your time over this step to get to know your BI software.

Step 4: Choose data visualisation elements that tell a story 

Data visualisation allows you to tell your viewers a comprehensive story, help them grasp the data better, recognise patterns and trends, and easily draw insights. However, there’s a risk of utilising too many visualisation elements and cluttering the user experience. 

You should always select visualisation elements that have a purpose and tell a story. This way, your viewer can understand not just what happened, but also why – and can therefore be able to make empowered and data-led decisions.

When you start visualising your data, begin by determining what you’re trying to communicate and choose the widgets that help you convey your message best. 

Some common BI widgets include:

  • Maps. These are ideal for associating categorical and quantitative data with spatial locations.
  • Bar and line charts. Compare unordered item values in graphical format.
  • Heatmaps. These are good for showing multiple rows of two-column values.
  • Indicators. Ideal for visualising the performance of quantitative KPIs.
  • Grids. Generate complex grid-based reports
  • Tables. Compare detailed data instead of macro visual representations.
  • Q&A visuals. These allow the user to ask questions about the data in natural language and receive an answer in a visual form.
  • Treemaps. Perfect for displaying large amounts of hierarchical data, spotting patterns, and showing the proportions between each variable.
Data Visualisation on
Data Visualisation on

Related Post: 10 Best Practice Tips for Creating Powerful BI Dashboards

Step 5: Identify which data features will be most useful for your audience 

Once you’ve chosen how to display your data, you’ll need to identify and implement additional data features to help the viewer better understand the BI dashboard.

These data features can include:

  • Data tables
  • Text boxes
  • Tooltips
  • Data filters
  • Drill-down capabilities 

Extra features can get overused because they make for an impressive design. If you have too many features, they’ll be disregarded by users who assume that the featured data doesn’t need to be explained any further. 

However, to create an effective BI dashboard, you need to utilise extra features in a way that contributes to your data story without confusing the viewer with complicated views. Choose your features carefully with your target user and their KPIs in mind.

Data Filters on
Data Filters on

Step 6: Think about colour 

Consider your use of colour and how it’ll help tell a story within your data. Colour is a crucial design element that is often underestimated, as most of the creator’s attention is focused on the data itself.

However, colours help draw attention to the most important information and give an at-a-glance indication of what it represents.

Some of the actions you can take when designing data visualisations include: 

  • Use the symbolic meanings of colours to convey your intended message. For example, use the colour red to flag something as negative and green as something positive.
  • Assign a specific colour to a metric and use that colour consistently as a way to draw attention to your chosen metric. Make sure to not switch between colours once you’ve chosen and assigned a colour to your metric. For example, you can assign the colour blue to signify sales or dark green to signify conversions, but don’t switch them around later
  • Select a visually pleasing colour scheme without creating too much contrast. Staying minimalistic in your dashboard design ensures that your viewer can stay focused on the data.

Step 7: Get continuous feedback 

To ensure consistent and sustainable growth, you need to consistently seek to improve and refine your dashboard. 

Before sharing your dashboard with your team, make sure that you’re prepared to gather feedback from the users. 

Remaining in constant communication with and receiving feedback from your users ensures that your dashboard can fulfil its purpose and help your users make the right decisions most effectively. 

You’ll need to ask your users their feedback about:

  • The usefulness of the dashboard
  • The kind of decisions they’ve been able to make by using the dashboard
  • How the dashboard is being used
  • Any feature of the visualisation method that is missing 
  • Areas where the dashboard can be improved 
  • Whether or not there are areas where your users are not understanding the data
  • And other similar red flags.

You can collect this feedback by using surveys within the app or via email, or by adding a feedback form to the dashboard itself. Once you gather the necessary feedback, you’ll be able to perfect the dashboard through different cycles of improvement.

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

Key takeaways for creating an effective business intelligence dashboard 

Creating an effective and interactive BI dashboard will empower everyone on your team to answer ad hoc data questions quickly and efficiently. With your dashboard, every team member will take away actionable insights, improve operations, and reach their goals more easily.

But, to create an effective dashboard, you need to know your intended audience and the type of BI dashboard you’ll need. You also need to connect to the right data sources, use engaging visualisations and data features, and be in continuous communication with your users.

If you’re looking for the right tool for your business to benefit from powerful BI dashboards, consider The user-friendly interface and  customisable dashboard features make it a top choice to empower your team to make data-informed decisions regardless of their technical knowledge.

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