Emerging as the face of business intelligence (BI), dashboard technology has proven to be an integral component of any enterprise-wide BI strategy. Dashboards allow companies to benefit from a wealth of data and leverage their information assets through visually rich, responsive, and personalized BI indicators. Moreover, through effective BI dashboards, business leaders gain heightened insight into and visibility across the organization, allowing them to detect and solve problems quickly and make informed decisions on the spot.
Specifically, the intuitive presentation provided by dashboards grants users access to vast amounts of data in real-time and in an easily understandable format. This is how dashboards mark the difference between information overload and information insight. Additionally, dashboards create an interactive platform for visual examination and root-cause analysis, as this BI tool provides live drill-downs within the dashboard.
The end result: businesses are able not only to meet changing business demands but also to get live feedback on the performance and health of the organization. They gain better understanding of the impacts from a complex set of business factors - both external and internal. Such success has revealed itself in a variety of business sectors including healthcare, manufacturing, financial services, insurance, services, technology, government and non-profit organizations.
Despite the myriad benefits currently servicing customers in a wide range of industries, there’s more to come: the buzz about dashboards is making its mark and popularity is growing. This great surge of interest will significantly enhance data visualization and presentation, which in turn will result in far-reaching, positive effects on our lives. Having participated in the dashboard movement in its beginning stages, and thus witnessing this concept grow from its infancy since 2001, I am perplexed by the unanswered question - what does the future hold for dashboards?
In short, the future is bright. There is fierce competition in this space; vendors are trying to outwit one another in developing creative dashboard solutions, resulting in vendors pushing the envelope of possibilities and design of dashboards.
Consider the ubiquitous dashboard element, the speedometer. The current speedometer design helps convey the relative value of a metric with respect to a pre-defined set of thresholds, all at a glance (see Figure 1). Future speedometers will have greater customization capabilities. What if you love your favorite SUV or sporty convertibles’ speedometer so much so that you want to customize your dashboard to show a similar look on your desktop? Dashboards of the future will help you easily accomplish that with different “presentation skins.” Therefore, expect all sorts of user-pleasing customization capabilities in the future.
Figure 1 – Examples of current dashboard speedometers (Courtesy: iDashboards)
What about interactivity and animation? A look into the future shows rich media animation and interesting effects of computer games lending ideas to the serious business of dashboards. The speedometer needles will deflect and traffic lights will blink, all in real-time and in tandem with changing data. Moreover, users will enjoy a virtual reality of exploring through large amounts of data - rotating data axes, 3D charts, drilling-down into maps and exploring complex connections between a set of inter-dependent variables.
Drag and drop user experience will get better, too. Most of the current dashboard interfaces require a well-trained and semi-technical user to build a dashboard. However, dashboards of the future will not require such skills. Instead, a business user with simple spreadsheet concepts will be able to design effective dashboards because the design elements will be more intuitive and user-friendly.
“Pretty, but dumb” is how some of the existing dashboards have been perceived, but dashboards are getting smarter. For example, analytics will play a role as there will be built-in capabilities to perform “what-if” analysis and forecasting.
Compliance and risk management are becoming mainstream and downstream. Dashboards are increasingly viewed as a collaborative platform to tackle these two major corporate challenges. Most of the existing dashboards fall short of delivering an effective solution in this area. However, future dashboards will be well equipped to meet this challenge: expect to see discussion threads seamlessly tied into the display within a dashboard. When you see a yellow light on the dashboard, you could post corrective action updates. This will also become a permanent record for the future and address regulatory compliance issues.
Additionally, “management by exception” will not be merely a sound-byte for management consultants, nor will Business Activity Monitoring (BAM); rather, dashboards of the future will be a serious facilitator of these concepts and will transform these concepts into action. Visual and email alerts will be intricately tied to the dashboard displays.
These capabilities that will be available in the future are developing in conjunction with current trends and demands within the technology and business realms. As the iPod age takes hold, options for display devices have expanded. The trend of advanced displays is becoming ever more evident as we see Microsoft’s emphasis on rich visual capabilities within the Vista operating system, Adobe’s enhancement to its Flash platform, and Apple’s leading delivery of next generation graphical user-interface for the personal digital assistants (PDAs). Dashboards will advance in similar displays, too; specifically, this evolution will result in miniaturization of user-interfaces optimized for palm-sized dashboards. In short, we can rest assured that visual experience and business value of future dashboards are accelerating at a great speed.
Finally, as data integrity and accuracy continue to be an ongoing pursuit for most companies, dashboards will continue to be a valuable asset in the future. These added benefits, and a result of businesses cleansing their data warehouses and reinforcing enhanced data integrity measures, will only improve the adoption of dashboards as the most-trusted source of information. Dashboards have just begun their debut of success: there’s much more to come.