Friday, 13 February 2009

Why a dashboard won't solve all of your problems

Business Intelligence (BI) has come of age. Assuming your IT department know roughly what they're doing and you can afford it, you can have your latest sales, market share, media spend, Google conversion rates and any other metrics you care to mention on your screen on a Monday morning.

More information is incredibly seductive. If you had your sales and media spend histories at your fingertips, you could show the effectiveness of your current advertising campaign. Surely? Couldn't you?

Well actually, no you couldn't. Marketing analysts have had this data for ages and it takes them a couple of months (and a degree in statistics) to work it out.

As analysts, we're often the ones selling dashboards, so lets be honest about what they do well. They show data. So to be useful, you have to be someone who needs to see that data - and I mean really needs to see it. Just the number. Not why the number, or where it came from, or what you might want to do about it.

Anything that goes beyond looking at a number isn't a dashboard, it's insight and analysis. Some pieces of software that can be used to build dashboards also have great tools for generating insight, like Qlik View, or Tableau. They don't do the analysis work for you though and if you haven't got staff with the time or the maths background required to go digging through the numbers then that dashboard's not going to help you make a decision.

Look at it like this; here's a dashboard in the true sense of the word.

It's got all the things on it that you might need to know while you're driving. Even some of the indicators on here might be considered surplus to requirements, but we can agree that knowing how fast you're going and whether you have any fuel left are useful pieces of information to have while you're in a car.

They're useful, because you know what to do about them if they're not right. Out of fuel? Find a petrol station, quick.

A car's dashboard doesn't tell you how to make the car slow down, how to mend it if it won't start or whether you should fit a loud exhaust and a spoiler.

Dashboards can be incredibly useful, but if you want to know how your business works, then they're not all you need.

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