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An Introduction To Data Dashboards: Meaning, Definition & Industry Examples

A beginner's introduction to data dashboards by datapine

“It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data.”– Arthur Conan Doyle

Data is all around us. According to the EMC Digital Universe study, by 2020, around 40 trillion megabytes – or 40 zettabytes – will exist in our digital landscape. That’s an unfathomable amount of information.

Data has changed our lives in many ways, helping to improve the processes, initiatives, and innovations of organizations across sectors through the power of insight. But there are so many stats, facts, and figures to choose from today that it can be difficult to know where to start.

Enter data dashboards – one of history’s best innovations in business intelligence.

To help you understand this notion in full, we’re going to explore a data dashboard definition, explain the power of dashboard data, and explore a selection of data dashboard examples.

Let’s kick things off by asking the question: what is a data dashboard? Or in other words, delve into the heart of the dashboard meaning.

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What Is A Data Dashboard?

data dashboard example: financial KPI dashboard

**click to enlarge**

Data dashboards provide a centralized, interactive means of monitoring, measuring, analyzing, and extracting a wealth of business insights from relevant datasets in several key areas while displaying aggregated information in a way that is both intuitive and visual.

They offer users a comprehensive overview of their company’s various internal departments, goals, initiatives, processes, or projects. These are measured through  Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), which provide insights that help to foster growth and improvement.

Online dashboards provide immediate navigable access to actionable analytics that has the power to boost your bottom line through continual commercial evolution.

Without the existence of dashboards and dashboard reporting practices, businesses would need to sift through colossal stacks of unstructured data, which is both inefficient and time-consuming. Alternatively, a business would have to ‘shoot in the dark’ concerning its most critical processes, projects, and internal insights, which is far from ideal in today’s world.

Now that you understand a clearly defined dashboard meaning, let’s move onto one of the primary functions of data dashboards: answering critical business questions.

Dashboards Answer Critical Business Questions

So, what is a dashboard primary function?

As mentioned earlier, a data dashboard has the ability to answer a host of business-related questions based on your specific goals, aims, and strategies.

By taking raw data from a number of sources and consolidating it before presenting it in a tailored, customized dashboard, data dashboards can help make sense of your company’s most valuable data and empower you to find actionable answers to your most burning business questions.

Through linking with specific KPIs that align with your business goals, you can drill down into specific pockets of information, creating benchmarks and measuring your success on a continual basis.

In doing so, your business will be data-driven, and as a direct result – more successful. To find out more about dashboards and key performance indicators, explore our ever-expanding collection of various business-boosting KPI examples and templates.

How Data Dashboards Are Used In BI

Now that we’ve asked the question, ‘what is a dashboard?’ and looked at the primary functions of these powerful tools, let’s examine them in a business intelligence context.

When it comes to business intelligence, data dashboards play a pivotal role.

Business intelligence (BI) is a term that relates to the applications, infrastructure, practices,  and tools that empower businesses to access a broad range of analytical data for improvement, campaign optimization, and enhanced decision-making that maximizes performance.

A data dashboard is the vessel – or tool – that materializes BI practices, converting, visualizing, and communicating complex business data into meaningful, actionable insights.

BI dashboard tools bestow business users with the ability to drill down even deeper into analytical data to capitalize on strengths, spot weaknesses, and make changes that will benefit the future of their organization.

Digital dashboards have essentially quashed the necessity to sift through multiple reporting tools; instead, they access dynamic insights – often in real-time. With such dashboards, users can also customize settings, functionality, and KPIs to optimize their dashboards to suit their specific needs.

To summarize, in the context of BI, data dashboards are used for:

  • Deep-level insight: Drilling down deeper into key aspects of your business’s daily, weekly and monthly operation to create initiatives for increased efficiency.
  • Information sharing: To facilitate the online data visualization of your most valuable data so that you can share key insights with other stakeholders both internally and outside the organization.
  • Performance measurement: By working with interactive KPIs, you can set specific business tasks, measuring your performance while working towards clearly defined milestones for enhanced business success.
  • Forecasting: As dashboards are equipped with predictive analytics, it’s possible to spot trends and patterns that will help you develop initiatives and make preparations for future business success.

A data dashboard assists in 3 key business elements: strategy, planning, and analytics. We’ll discuss the primary features or benefits of BI-powered dashboards in due course. For now, let’s take a glimpse at legacy solutions.

Legacy Data Solutions

Before dashboards, it was much harder to get an intuitive grasp of your company’s performance through data-driven intelligence.

Because a huge amount of data existed in a company’s mainframe computer (particularly data related to profits, costs, revenue, etc.), you would often need an IT professional prepare data reports for you.

Why? Well, many of these mainframe computers are still running legacy software designed in the 1970s or 1980s. These innovations offer no swipe-able screens or easy-to-use interfaces.

 These are more “command line” types of machines, and other issues include:

  • The time delay associated with requesting reports
  • Data being spread out amongst many databases
  • Lack of different data visualization types

Due to all of these problems, dashboards were developed. They help businesses answer the question “How can we use all the data we have about our company and our customers in order to make better informed, data-driven decisions that lead to more revenue and profits?”

Behind the scenes, with the help of a dashboard builder, you can integrate all of the information you need from all of the different data sources your company has. However, what you (the end user) see are simple tables, charts, and graphs – all in real time.

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The Top 10 Benefits Of Data Dashboards

Now that you have at least a basic understanding of what is a data dashboard and how it can benefit your company, let’s dig deeper into some of their uses.

1. They Are Customizable

One of the biggest advantages data dashboards have over more traditional spreadsheets is that they are almost infinitely customizable and flexible. This makes sense operationally, as the same data is used in very different ways by different people in your company.

For example, let’s say you have all of your sales data from the past quarter in a spreadsheet. While you can dig through the spreadsheet for details, you have to look at all the information at once. This can affect your ability to focus. But using an effective sales report created with a dashboard, you could easily have one layout optimized for a specific sales representative, showing their:

  • Deal closing rates
  • Average order size
  • Lifetime value (LTV) of customers closed

A sales manager might see each of these data sets for each of their sales reps, and a C-level executive won’t see any of this. They’ll see averages of LTV, order sizes, and overall closing rates, along with other “bigger picture data.”

2. They Are Interactive

Let’s say our sales executive wanted to dig deeper into the data around a promising new hire. If she was using a dashboard software, she could simply tap a few buttons on her dashboard and get to a view similar to that of the sales manager. Conversely, if the sales manager (or even the rep) wanted to understand how their job role fits into the company as a whole, they could “zoom out” as needed. This kind of “focus adjustment” just isn’t possible with spreadsheets.

When presenting data and communicating insights, it is important to create a dialogue – no one likes being preached throughout a whole presentation. Letting your audience being part of it thanks to interactive dashboard features will convey your message more efficiently. By using real-time data and manipulating it live, encouraging your listeners to ask questions and drill-down the information by themselves, explore on their own, they will be much more engaged in the discussion. The interactivity is especially interesting in dashboarding with a diverse audience: newcomers are onboarded easily while experts can dig deeper into the data for more insights.

3. They Allow For Real-Time Monitoring

The business world changes quickly.

If you’re still running analytical reports by sending them to your IT department and then waiting to get them back, your company is missing out on situations where agility wins. If you have to wait days or weeks to get data on a situation, it might be too late to make necessary changes.

For example, with real-time monitoring, you can see how a phone outreach campaign is going for a big product launch you have coming up. If, a week into the campaign, you notice that you’re not getting any results via your dashboard, you can make a quick intervention and switch to digital ads, direct mail, or some other strategy.

You’re saving yourself a big opportunity cost here.

4. All Of Your Data Is In One Place

When you use dashboards, you have one centralized location where all of your users can access your data.

This is in contrast to a myriad of spreadsheets, software, and databases that represent the legacy approach. As in all of your PPC data is in Facebook, while all of your customer data is in your CRM software, and your income/loss statements are in your mainframe (which is running on 1980s software and requires an IT staff member to operate). Not pretty.

Instead, with 24/7/365 dashboard solutions like datapine, if someone wants to make a data-driven decision or presentation at the next staff meeting, all they have to do is pull out their tablet.

5. They Are Intuitive

Let’s be honest – most human beings find it easier to understand a graph than a long, tedious Excel spreadsheet full of numbers. Dashboards allow you to “tease out” patterns in your data that you might not see in a purely numerical format.

Additionally, people have different levels of “tech-savvy.” Some users may find even an Excel document to be quite difficult to work with. Dashboards make everything accessible.

6. They Get Everyone On The Same Page

In order to have a dashboard culture, everyone on your team needs to be on board. That can’t happen if some employees don’t have the same access to data that other employees do, whether due to technical comfort levels or simply due to data being spread out.

When everyone on your team is looking at the same set of numbers, they can understand the team’s mission in a much more tangible way. You can point to sales numbers and really connect them with future goals and projections.

This kind of connection is priceless.

7. They Force You To Focus

Perhaps the biggest reason to use dashboards for understanding your data is that they force you to focus.

One of the key point to remember when creating a stunning dashboard, is that you shouldn’t overwhelm it with too many KPIs. From a visual and aesthetic perspective, things get cluttered if you put too much on the screen. From an effectiveness standpoint, your mind starts to wonder what’s important.

Therefore, if you’re using dashboards the right way, your brain always knows what KPIs are important – the ones on the screen. You can even make more important KPIs bigger, further reinforcing their status in your mind.

As Tony Robbins says, “Where focus goes, energy flows.” In other words, you take action on what you focus on. Dashboards make it easy to focus on what’s truly important.

8. They Help You To Multitask

Multitasking is a useful skill, but in business, trying to absorb too much information or tackle too many tasks at once can prove to be detrimental, with projects becoming convoluted and mistakes being made.

However, when it comes to data analytics, a modern dashboard consolidates all critical insights from various data sources through data connectors, and presents it in a dynamic visual format. By being able to view a multitude of organized, visually digestible information in one central space, you can quickly extract several pieces of information at once, empowering you to complete projects swiftly with a greater level of success and accuracy.

9. They Are Predictive

Data dashboards aren’t psychic, but that can help you predict the direction your business is going based on current trends, metrics, and insights. If you don’t like the way particular elements of your business are going, digital dashboards will give you the intelligence you’ll need to make enhancements that will help to cement your future success.

By working with a mix of past insights, real-time data, and detailed patterns, dashboards provide a panoramic overview of specific areas of your business. If you feel something is going to cost you unnecessary investment in the future, you’ll be able to improve your financial strategy; if you see something worth capitalizing on, you can create a campaign or initiative around it.

Moreover, as modern data dashboards securely store everything on the cloud, access to predictive insights are literally 247 – 365 days a year. All you need is a web connection and you can start formulating strategies wherever you are in the world, at any time.

10. They Help You To Tell Stories With Your Data

When it comes to sharing your data with others, prompting any form of progressive action requires others to understand the message you’re trying to convey.

To help other departments within your organization, or external partners, get on board with your data-driven insights, you need to tell a story with your data. An interactive digital dashboard will help you do just that.

Though seamless data visualization, a data dashboard can help you create a narrative with the information delivered through your KPIs. In gaining the ability to do so effectively, you’ll be able to work more cohesively towards your goals and accelerate the success of your business exponentially.

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Our Top 8 Data Dashboard Examples & Templates

Now that you know what dashboards are and how they can boost the success of your business, it’s time to delve deeper into 8 prime real-world digital dashboards tailored for a host of different sectors and industries.

For a more detailed glance, you can check out 80 or more business dashboard examples suited to an ever wider range of business functions (marketing, sales, finance, management, etc.) and industries (healthcare, retail, logistics, manufacturing, etc.).

For now, let’s explore our personal 8 eight. Prepare to be inspired…

1) Management KPI Dashboard

Our first data dashboard template is a management KPI dashboard. It is a good example of a “higher level” dashboard for a C-level executive. You’ll notice that this dashboard focused on important management KPIs like:

  • Number of new customers compared to targets
  • The average revenue per customer
  • Customer acquisition cost
  • Gross revenue, target revenue, and last year’s revenue

Management KPI data dashboard example showing the important management KPIs to C-level executives

**click to enlarge**

This dashboard above does a great job of keeping things focused and avoids clutter through the liberal use of white space.

2) Sales Cycle Length Dashboard

This sales cycle length dashboard below is a sales manager’s dream. This dashboard example breaks down how long customers are taking to move through your funnel, on average. It expands on this by showing how different sales managers are performing compared to one another.

Sales Cycle Length Data Dashboard to track the whole sales funnel

**click to enlarge**

Finally, it makes things even more nitty-gritty by breaking down these sales KPIs into how many people are at each stage of the funnel and how long each stage lasts on average.

3) Web Analytics Dashboard

If you use digital marketing heavily in your business, this web analytics dashboard below will soon become your best friend.

Web Analytics data dashboard example tracking important marketing KPIs

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This data dashboard template gives you a number of useful marketing KPIs at a glance, giving you the answers to questions like:

  • How many people are visiting your website?
  • How many pages are they looking at?
  • How long are they staying?
  • How many people are converting?

This dashboard goes even further by breaking down your top converting channels, campaigns, and pages, and showing how much of your traffic is coming from each channel.

This kind of information makes it really easy to know where you should prioritize your time and energy.

4) Manufacturing Production Dashboard

If your company is in the manufacturing business, a production dashboard will prove invaluable, as seen in this example:

Manufacturing Production Data Dashboard example displaying main manufacturing KPIs to keep the pulse of your factory.

**click to enlarge**

With manufacturing KPIs for your total production volume, your sales revenue, your units ordered, and your top performing machines, you have your finger on the pulse of your factory.

Finally, the refunded items by reason graph serves as an “early warning sign” for manufacturing defects.

5) Logistics Transportation Dashboard

This particular data dashboard example shows how big data and data analytics can impact the logistics industry. When it comes to logistics, every moment matters, and you want as many deliveries as possible to be on time.

Logistics Transportation Data Dashboard visualizing essential KPIs when it comes to delivery

**click to enlarge**

This transportation dashboard makes it easy with the delivery status, fleet efficiency, average loading time and other logistics KPIs.

6) Cash Management Dashboard

Naturally, your cash flow is integral to the ongoing health of your business. By managing your income, expenditure, liquidity, and financial relationships effectively, you’ll be able to meet your monetary targets, gain greater access to credit, and ensure your business is fortified against any unforeseen circumstances.

cash management data dashboard example to illustrate the liquidity and current cash flow

**click to enlarge**

This dynamic financial dashboard features all of the functions and KPIs to keep every element of your finances afloat, helping you to optimize your financial activity for ongoing growth and success. An essential data dashboard type for organizations across industries.

7) Hospital KPI Dashboard

Hospitals are the beating heart of the health sector – without them, where would we be? With so much activity to analyze and so many resources to consider, implementing data dashboard technology in hospitals is essential in this day and age.

Hospital analytics gathered on a hospital management data dashboard

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Covering treatment costs, financial efficiency, and various critical aspects of patient care, this hospital KPI dashboard plays a pivotal part in ironing out any operational efficiencies on a daily basis. Moreover, with the insights gained from this dashboard, hospitals stand to increase mortality rates, make wiser investments, and ensure cohesive communication throughout the institution.

8) Employee Performance Dashboard

It doesn’t matter what you sell or offer – if your employees aren’t happy, motivated, and performing to the best of their abilities, your entire organization will suffer.

This HR data dashboard example focuses on the employee’s performance and behavior.

**click to enlarge**

A comprehensive staff-centric innovation, the employee performance dashboard drills down into every major aspect of personnel management, from absenteeism rates and overtime hours to productivity levels and training costs. The insights here help offer support and motivation where needed, boosting staff engagement and improving your management strategies.

Exclusive Bonus Content: Ready to make analytics straightforward?
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“The price of light is less than the cost of darkness.” – Arthur C. Nielsen

Ready To Get Started With Data?

Now that you understand the unrivaled power of data dashboards, we’re sure you’re keen to get started. To do so, you don’t have to look far. datapine’s innovative dashboards are intuitive, interactive, and completely customizable, displaying all of your most critical data in real-time in one easy-access location.

To find out more about what dashboards can do for you, sign up for a 14-day trial, completely free!

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