I’m a big fan of data visualization because it really helps people understand information. You can certainly derive a lot of insight from a report, but sometimes it helps to look at data in a different way. Dashboards are one way to get information to people in an easily digestible format. However, in order for dashboards to be effective, they need to be:
- Engaging – meaning you have to want to look at them
- Useful – meaning that they provide valuable information that is easily understandable
Anyone can say they provide a dashboard if they have a few gauges and charts, but if they are flat representations of information they don’t go a long way to help to display complex information. On the other hand, there can’t be so much happening in the dashboard that the user becomes overwhelmed and confused.
Now, I have to admit that I wasn’t a big fan of certain dashboard visuals – such as the gauge. This may be because when I was developing executive information systems (way back when), our gauges were fairly static, so they didn’t convey much information. However, I recently had a conversation with Shadan Malik, CEO of iDashboards, and I found the interactive dashboards he showed me quite engaging and useful.
Here’s an example of what I mean. This is a static screenshot of a dashboard, from iDashboards, (which actually illustrates my point about some static displays of information). But, click here to see the actual dynamic dashboard built using Flex® and Flashâ technology.
This dashboard presents information from two different bank call centers – one called Auburn Bank and the other Regel Bank. This is actually a real dashboard, but the data and names have been changed to protect the innocent, which explains the fact that some axes aren’t labeled and why some of the data is a bit suspect – but you can get the idea of how useful a dashboard can be.
There’s a lot of information on the dashboard, but it isn’t overwhelming. The dashboard actually tells a story. In this case, it is the story of two different banks and how well each bank’s call center is performing. Right away, you can see that (for Auburn Bank) over the past six months, there have been some issues with cost and budget, that the percent of calls coming through the call center (vs. the web) has increased and abandonment rates are decreasing. The interactive mode helps to drive some of the information, home however. For example, Auburn Bank has been having some issues with answering calls in a timely manner. I found this out in just a few seconds of looking at the dashboard by hovering over the cost/budget chart by month and looking at what was happening in gauges and when it trended into the red zone. You can also toggle between the two banks to see how each is performing. You can also drill down into any piece of data to get more information.
The company recently announced that it has incorporated Flex technology into its product. This increases the speed of processing data and enables even more interactivity. Of course, it is a fine line between visualizing just the right amount of information and being overwhelmed by too much information. My understanding is that iDashboards works with many of its customers to help deal with data issues, determine important metrics and walk through the storyboarding of the dashboard. This is probably a good thing, given the power behind the product.