Should You Build a Custom Dashboard?

When a business looks at creating an information dashboard, there are two main options: either create a custom dashboard from scratch, or purchase a 3rd party tool and design your dashboard using it.  Most 3rd party tools out there do have some advantages – they will allow you to define data connections, pick from a library of charts, graphs, and gauges, and most of the time have pretty good usability.  However, there are some major weaknesses these 3rd party tools have which makes them almost never the best choice.  In fact, when you research companies that have had a lot of success with their dashboard, the vast majority of the time they created it themselves and crafted it to fit their exact needs.

But why is this?  What about these 3rd party tools makes them weak compared to designing a dashboard from scratch?  Mainly, it is because when it comes to the 3 main important rules of dashboard design, these tools fail on one of the rules, and are weak on the other two.

The rule that they fail to follow is “Dashboards Must Be Visible On One Page”.  The purpose of this rule is to make it so the actionable data that you put on your dashboard is seen by the necessary users “at a glance”, and can therefore be acted upon.  Because of the fact that 3rd party tools usually can’t fit more than 6 or so gauges or graphs on a page before they run out of room, these tools force the user to navigate multiple tabs, drop-downs, and other filters in order to see all of their data.  Think of it this way – if there is a glaring red alarm on your dashboard that indicates that the assembly line is about to cease production, do you want it buried under 10 pages of gauges, or available on the first page so that the plant manager can quickly react?

Besides the fact that they fail to allow the data to be actionable, the fact that the graphs included in these tools are often weak and plain means that the data they display often does have a relevant context.  Also, since all it takes is some dragging and dropping to add a dial to the page, they also tend to promote “gauge bloat”, which means that all kinds of non-actionable and non-contextual data ends up on the page.

All of these factors mean that if you want a business intelligence dashboard that gives your company the maximum impact, you need to create one customized to your exact needs – from scratch.

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