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When it comes to making informed decisions these days, it really is about surfacing the right subset of information at the right time, with the right purpose. We all know that Business Intelligence and Dashboards manage the process of sifting through and presenting information, but what struck me recently was that, paradoxically, more information can also lead to bad decisions.  In fact, these ‘intelligent’ solutions are only at their best if they take human factors into account when looking at information.

Goals change the way  you view information

The way  that we interact with information differs depending on what we want to do – whether we’re looking for anomalies, diagnosing a perceived problem, validating a theory, or receiving an update, etc. It’s extremely important to choose the outcome you’d like to optimize for before creating a Dashboard solution. If you’re looking to manage by exception, for instance, then it’s important to create a user interface that highlights exceptions and allows drill-down to diagnose what you’ve found. Whereas if you are looking to validate a theory, you might want to surface targeted segments of information on an ad-hoc basis. First understand the goal, then understand what type of visualization might work, then look into which metrics are right for the decision at hand. In fact, choosing the right metric is another important topic, discussed here.

If you look hard enough you’ll start to see things in the clouds

Everybody remembers seeing elephants and unicorns in the clouds when they were little (okay, I might be particularly fond of unicorns). The human brain is programmed to make sense of what it sees, even if there’s no real pattern at hand. While dashboards can guide great decisions, staring at them constantly can also start creating a picture that isn’t really there. Inaccuracies of this type most often occur due to too much information – either in sheer amount or in frequency. The glory of creating a dashboard comes from surfacing what matters most – which means making choices. For a dashboard you pick key performance indicators. There are probably a hundred different indicators that describe your business, but only a handful are key and should be on your dashboard. The process of knowing what you can look at and whittling it down to the key metrics is a place where investing forethought can save you from illusions down the line. Get started choosing Key Performance Indicators here.

Are you using your dashboard like a report (or vice versa)?

If you’re only looking at your dashboard once a month, you’re doing it wrong – and it’s probably not your fault. And if you’re conglomorating reports to try and make a forest from the twigs, your Excel skills are probably only making you happy, not helping you make decisions. So what gives? Reports and Dashboards both gather and display information, but are used for different purposes and surface different segments of information. If you’re frustrated with one or the other you might be surfacing the wrong thing, or using what you’ve gathered wrong. A report is usually a large amount of data associated with a very specific thing, while a dashboard has very specific data about a selected number of things. Reports are typically something that you go out and run, because you don’t need to look at a report on a daily basis. In fact, let’s be honest, if you’re getting a report on a daily basis chances are you’ll ignore it. At the end of the day supporting decisions with metrics is about the right tool for the right job.

If you hate your reports, your portal or your dashboard, there’s probably a diagnosable reason. Call us and see if we can help! 888-343-KNOW


Nate Richards
Nate has over 18 years of software engineering and consulting experience. He founded Entrance in 2003. Nate is the past President of the Board of LifeHouse Houston, a Christ-centered maternity home ministry, and is past Executive committee member and Treasurer of Houston Achievement Place, a foster care and social skills training non-profit organization.
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