Today’s business environment is data-hungry. As a result, many of us are drowning in data, and we need a way to consume important information in seconds. This is where good dashboard design comes into play. A well-designed dashboard answers questions and helps you track your business and see trends. It’s designed to communicate a lot of information in a quick scan – and let you only dig into the data if you see something that requires your attention. In this post, we’re going to focus on just a few ideas on how to present certain types of information in ways that make it easy to stay focused on your business.
Trend Lines – Data Over Time
Trend lines are useful graphs that let you see changes over time. For example, you might want to track the change in your sales by line of business month over month. Or you might want to track your payroll expense as a percentage of sales over time. Or monitor your sales team’s travel expenses against sales and look for patterns. Presenting this type of information as a trend line graph provides an immediate visual cue – are sales going up? Are expenses going up faster than your revenue? Consider providing this information using a trend line graph rather than just looking at a string of numbers. You’ll find it’s a much easier way to consume the information.
Key Performance Indicators – Data at a Point in Time
Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) let you track numbers, ratios, and percentages at a glance. Rather than digging through a report or building an Excel workbook to do the math, your accounting system can do this for you by presenting you with real-time, pre-calculated numbers. The key questions to ask when deciding what KPI’s to review is simple: “What specific information do I need to keep an eye on?”. For a CFO, a current ratio and cash on hand might be critical. For the CEO, total sales might be more relevant. A good accounting system will allow you to customize each dashboard to meet the needs of your users, rather than forcing everyone into an all-in-one solution.
Pie and Donut Charts – Percentages of a Whole
Pie charts and their more modern version, donut charts (because there’s a hole in the middle!) are a time-proven way to visually see percentages. You might want to see how your various lines of business stack up. Or see what percentage of sales is being brought in by each member of your sales team. Another option might be which of your clients make up the majority of your revenue. This tried-and-true graphing style is a good way to get a visual representation of what percentage a particular group contributes to an overall whole.
Exception Reports – Identifying Action Items
Another extremely useful dashboard component is the exception report. If you know you have to regularly check your general ledger for specific coding errors, why not add in a dashboard component to show you when those errors occur? Rather than scanning the general ledger report looking for a clearing account that isn’t zero, for example, you can set up a dashboard component that shows you the current balance in all clearing accounts. Now you know when you need to take action on something, rather than finding out during month-end close.
The true secret to making your dashboards effective? Find out what your questions your users are trying to answer. Then build components that show them the answers, rather than making them sift through a ton of raw data.