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Choosing the Right Dashboard for Your Intranet

As more and more organisations edge further towards becoming digital, data has become increasingly important as a tool to aid productivity, inform business decisions and gain insight into all manner of business processes. All companies generate a huge amount of data these days. This comes from numerous sources such as finance, sales, web activity and even social media.

McKinsey & Company point out,

“that when companies inject data and analytics deep into their operations, they can deliver productivity and profit gains that are 5 to 6 percent higher than those of the competition.”

Collating and presenting data in such a way that it’s understandable and useful to the end user is no longer the complex process that it once was. Modern data dashboards for intranets are capable of pulling both historical and real time data from various sources in order to display it in a visual manner that provides insights.

Whilst dashboards should be championed by executives, if they are going to be valuable across the organisation, they can be used by anyone and it’s not always necessary that the user be an analyst or data scientist. Dashboards, when implemented in the right way on the intranet, can provide a window into the everyday operations and processes of a business in order to help better decisions to be made.

Smart Business reports that,

“Global companies experienced a 26 percent improvement in performance over the last three years when big data analytics were applied to the decision-making process. And now, those data-savvy executives are forecasting a 41 percent improvement over the next three years.”

Further to this, in Europe alone, 65% of senior executives said in a survey that data analytics were important.

The survey also found that:

  • 58% of executives said data analytics was important when it came to planning hiring new employees.
  • 80% said that they help better serve customers’ needs.
  • 72% said that data analytics are important to the business’s plans to create and launch new products and services.
  • 24% said that they expect 10% further growth in the next five years due to the use of analytics

So there’s little doubt that data analytics – and in turn dashboards – are proving to be incredibly useful to businesses from a wide range of industries when it comes to making better decisions and improving business operations and processes.

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Intranet Dashboards Require Planning

As with anything business-related, if you want the use of data dashboards to be a success, then careful planning is required. To start with, there are different types of intranet dashboards that can be used in different areas of the business. And as discussed earlier, there are also dashboards that display historical or real time data – or a combination of the two.

All dashboards gather raw data and work to present it in such a way that users can gain insight into business processes and customer behaviour. Using dashboards, trends can be spotted which enable more informed, and faster business decisions to be made.

For example, if a dashboard is applied to sales operations, metrics such as product categories, customer demographics and behaviours and sales trends can be monitored in order to gain further insight into which products are popular with what audience. And when these products are most likely to see a boost in sales and much more. This can then help with planning stock control and marketing to the right demographic, at the right time.

However, sales dashboards are just one example of how a dashboard can provide insight in one area of the business.

Dashboards can be equally applied to:

  • Marketing – to spot KPIs, aid remarketing and more
  • Stock control – to automate stock processes and ensure that the most popular products are always available, whilst reducing spends on poorly selling products and reducing overstock
  • HR – to monitor the performance of staff
  • Customer service – to monitor customer representative staff, incoming calls, length of calls and mor
  • Finance – to better understand payment cycles and financial snapshots at any given time
  • Executives – to gain insight and an overall understanding of how the business is performing and where improvements can be made
  • Factory floors – to help managers improve production efficiency

This is not a full list, and it’s fair to say that there are many areas of any business where data can be used to further boost business operations and improve profits.

Different Types of Dashboards

There are around six different types of dashboards for intranets to consider, but for the majority of enterprises, it is only necessary to look at three – strategic/executive dashboards, operational dashboards and analytical dashboards. Operational dashboards display key KPI information that allows the user to see if they are on target for their objectives for that day, week, month, or year. These tend to use real time data in order for the user to instantly have a snapshot of how the chosen objective is performing.

Operational dashboards are ideal for managing day-to-day processes that frequently change and require less technical knowledge than analytical dashboards. In short, operational dashboards are meant to help an organisation understand if its performance is on or off target, and by how much, in real time. This allows an organisation to quickly respond to any changes and act on them.

Analytical dashboards focus more on historical data and are used to gain insight into what has taken place in the past and how it can be improved upon in the future. For example, the marketing department might want to compare how one campaign carried out in the previous quarter, compares to one carried out in the current quarter.

Or, it could be that marketing wants to track the success of a campaign not only by making a direct comparison, but they could integrate sales and product placement data to see how and why which campaign has been more successful. So analytical dashboards can help an enterprise to better achieve targets by examining historical data.

Strategic or executive dashboards are designed to give an executives an overview of KPIs that can be tracked by company executives periodically in order to gain a high-level overview of the company and its performance. This type of dashboard will typically allow execs to view data such as:

  • Revenue by quarter/year
  • Costs compared to previous periods
  • Sales performance
  • Staff headcount by department

To choose the best dashboards for your business, you will need first to carry out a questionnaire which can help you to determine the type of dashboard needed.

It will be necessary to consider:

  • What business problem requires solving
  • What personnel/departments will be using the dashboard
  • Are there gaps in the business’s performance – if so, where
  • What are the goals of the organisation
  • How is data currently used/stored
  • How many data sources does the business currently hav

Depending on the dashboard that you choose, it may be that you can only pull data from one source. If however your data exists in various places, then it will be necessary to implement a dashboard that pulls data in from numerous sources. Understanding the above questions will help you to determine whether you will need operational or analytical dashboards – or both.

Adding Dashboards to the Intranet

When it comes to costs, dashboards can vary quite wildly. This is because they can be tailored to suit the needs of a specific business and may require more than one element to be added.

Dashboard vendors don’t tend to advertise pricing for the reasons above, but it can be said that there are three main pricing models.

  1. License per user – based on how many users will be using the dashboard software or the different types of user (e.g. by department).
  2. Date source licenses – some vendor’s price dashboards based on the number of data sources that the dashboard is connecting to and reading from.
  3. Server based license – this is priced depending on the dashboard’s capabilities such as number and speed of processes or amount of memory that’s demanded of the dashboard.

Pricing will depend on your needs and the size of your organisation and there’s no one set price range that we can pin down here. However, even though large dashboard implementations can be expensive, there’s no longer any doubt as to the capability of quickly gaining ROI.

Planning the Project

Dashboards do more than pull data and present it as a set of numbers. Instead, dashboards use graphs and other visualisations to help the user to quickly see where changes can be made, or not. In order for a dashboard to be successful in any department, with any user, it’s necessary to get to the core of why the dashboard is needed and what problem will it solve.

For example, in a sales dashboard, you might ask: how can we move more leads through the sales pipeline? This then is your goal for this dashboard and in order to reach it, you will need to study data in real time in order to move the customer further along. This can be achieved by calling at a specific time when your data tells you the customer is likely to be receptive, to give a simple example.

Likewise, this information could be accessed by marketing to see where in the pipeline the customer is most likely to be receptive to remarketing. It’s vital to the success of dashboards that you don’t just throw any data at it however, you must choose data sets carefully and understand why they will play a part.

Ask yourself how knowing this data will allow your users to better make decisions and act. Dashboards are not designed to be capable of being asked any old question and giving an instant answer, they are not Google. Instead, you need to tell them what data to display and you must understand why this data is important to each business operation or process when applied to a dashboard and the person(s) using it.

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(Image source: A Guide to Creating Dashboards People Love to Use (PDF))

In the first instance then, you should choose the important metrics for each department where you’re going to apply dashboards and identify the users who will be working with them. Depending then on the type of dashboard that is going to be deployed, you should test the technical understanding of the user and determine if it’s going to be valuable to that particular user.

It’s then a case of either putting the right training in place or reconsidering if the dashboard could be better implemented for another, more technical member of staff. It’s wise to ensure that executives are included in a dashboard project, as often the success of their implementation on the intranet depends on executives leading by example.

Consider Usability

A good dashboard should include great usability. They can and do add to how employees engage with the intranet itself, so it pays to ensure that it’s not so complex as to put users off. When evaluating vendors, look carefully at how information is displayed and how easy it is to apply filters and perform other tasks through the dashboard interface.

Responsive dashboards are also now available, so also ask yourself how mobility will fit into the equation. Does your organisation have a lot of workers in the field who might want to access a sales dashboard on a smartphone or tablet, perhaps? Or maybe a proportion of your workforce works from home – consider how the user is going to access the dashboard for the best chance of success.

Dashboards are a powerful addition to any enterprise and as discussed, research has shown that they can substantially and positively affect growth and financial performance. However, just as with an intranet project, they do require planning and an understanding of how they will help the business to reach its goals.

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