Data analytics, business intelligence (BI), and dashboards are becoming indispensable tools for businesses looking to upscale their performance and reach more profits. With all the information you must gather, monitor, and analyse in today’s digital age, you may be wondering if you are getting the most out of your data. A crucial first step to maximising your insights is finding a state-of-the-art, professional dashboard software with the necessary features for your business.
Here we’ll provide everything you need to know, and more: what is a dashboard software, how you can take advantage of it, and the top features a dashboarding software must have in 2020 to be able to reach and outperform business’ goals. Let’s get started.
Dashboard software is an information management tool that tracks, gathers, and displays business data in interactive and customisable visualisations that enable users to monitor the health of a business, analyse processes, and provide them with actionable insights.
- An example of a modern dashboard software interface -
A professional business dashboard empowers anyone on your team to immediately create charts and automated reports and share them with the right decision-makers. Any team member, from CEO to junior manager, has the ability to discover, visualise, present and share data any way they deem relevant. Whether you want to see critical customer KPIs or last month’s sales figures, the numbers you need are only a few clicks away.
While these tools have been available to upper management for years, this unprecedented level of access democratises decision-making and engages every employee in the bottom line. Let’s see the most eminent benefits of utilising such software in more detail.
Imagine that your sales team is presenting to a potential client, on the verge of closing a sale, when a question arises about past performance, financial efficiency, future predictions, or any of a host of factors. Out comes your phone or tablet, and seconds later, the data is charted, providing context simultaneously. This is just one scenario where software brings added value to businesses, and now we will explain how it benefits any business that implements these modern solutions into its workflow:
You gain a consistent view of KPIs: All your key performance indicators (KPIs) become visible from a centralised location, formed on a single screen, no matter the data source(s) you need to utilise. You can easily connect flat files, CRM- and ERP data, databases, helpdesk, social media, and many more, that will provide you with instant access to all the business information you might gather and need to analyse. That way, as a non-technical user you can fully explore your datasets with the help of a KPI dashboard and obtain a consistent, unified view of your business metrics, without relying on additional assistance from other departments.
You save time and resources: Back in the days the IT department had the full responsibility to code the required information or generate reports that would take days, if not weeks. Modern solutions cut the middleman and provide the user with a drag-and-drop interface which enables you to explore the data on your own. This self-service approach empowers you to create and analyse your own dashboard, without writing a single line of SQL code by simply selecting the desired chart, and dropping it onto the required area. Your data is immediately visualised, and you don’t need to wait for the analysis for hours or days. Powerful online data analysis tools will do all the hard work for you.
You get real-time updates: Real-time is all the rage these days, and why shouldn’t it be? Just think - your data automatically updated without the tedious and error-prone practice of manually entering new information. A real time dashboard allows you to monitor activity as it happens throughout your business processes. Your charts and reports are updated continuously in less than a second after the action occurs. Gone are the days of a decision-maker requesting a report for a meeting that gets rescheduled leading the report preparer to have to do the work twice. No matter when you need to look at the report, the charts are up to date.
You enhance your decision-making: With the possibility to utilise artificial intelligence, the dashboarding software augments the traditional means of monitoring, analysing, and generating actionable insights, and takes you to the next level of data management. If a business anomaly occurs or a specific goal is met, modern tools will instantaneously alert you, hence, you can take immediate action and prevent a business disaster or celebrate your newly reached goals. You can benefit from neural networks, pattern recognition or threshold alerts that will help you spot trends and identify patterns, notifying you on important changes even on your mobile.
You will need the best dashboard software to fully utilise all these discussed benefits and more. Here we will distance ourselves from traditional means of representing data such as Excel or PowerPoint, as they nevertheless don’t cover most of the features we will discuss, and help you to identify key features a professional software should have in 2020.
As we expounded on the benefits and how you can take advantage of implementing these solutions into your business, now we will take a closer look at the top features that dashboard software needs to provide you with in order to upscale your business. We will focus here on actual features that are utilised during the creation, using, and sharing processes, after your data is ready and connected to the tool. Therefore, we will omit data quality (management), and third-party integrations that enable you to access your data from a single point of truth – these are already inevitable requirements; hence, we won’t look into further details.
Many of these discussed software features are covered on different levels, therefore we will often differentiate, within the single feature, between basic/standard, and more advanced ones. Let’s get going.
- An example of a professional dashboard template -
These features help to speed up the dashboard creation process and editing. Predefined templates, such as the example above, provide you with the possibility to choose from various pre-built and designed dashboards which you can simply select, and the software creates the whole dashboard for you which you can edit afterwards. This dashboard feature can come in handy when you don’t have time to build your own customised solution or need fast visualisations of your data.
- Global style options help to adjust the dashboard design with a few clicks -
Global style options allow you to change the fonts, colours and background colours, etc. of all dashboard elements including charts, texts, and other elements. You can also apply unified style settings to the data labels, text elements, and legends of your charts and graphs. This allows you to adjust your dashboard design quickly for all charts on your dashboard. With global style options, you can easily stick to a unified corporate brand, image and story. In the same vein as global style options, predefined dashboard themes allow you to change the look and feel of your dashboard with no effort. You can define your own dashboard themes or choose between a few default themes. This is particularly helpful when you are implementing your data analytics and still fine-tuning your branding and story.
You should always think through about utilising the appropriate chart type when building a data visualisation. Is your chart going to be based on the relationship of your data, composition, distribution or comparison? A well-developed software provides numerous data visualisation types that allow you to visualise your data in the most meaningful way. From a simple number chart to a scatter plot or bubble chart, the types of graphs you choose will determine the quality of the end product – your dashboard. According to a project developed by Google News Lab and adioma, the most searched types of data visualisation on the Internet are the bar chart, followed by a gantt chart, histogram, and pie chart. While that doesn’t mean they’re the best choice for your visualisation efforts, it certainly heightens their popularity. Keep in mind that there is no one universal chart you should use, but you can upgrade each chart by utilising an advanced feature such as custom chart tooltips that enable you to adjust the shown information when you hover with your mouse over a part of the chart, providing you with a small snippet.
A well-developed software will contain advanced chart options such as adding a secondary axis, the combination of multiple chart types or different trend indicators, for example for a number chart. Since number charts are built quite often, a trend indicator can be individually or globally applied to the dashboard to change the trend colours – ultimately, it indicates visually if the trends are positive or negative. Another dashboard function, conditional formatting, lets you highlight variances to point out unexpected values, and discover hidden trends and patterns. You can apply rules based on values, fixed or relative limits, and custom criteria – the choice is yours. Moreover, you can specify different colour scales to display your formatting, and the chart will change colours based on your applied rules.
- An intuitive drag & drop interface with advanced chart options -
An additional advanced dashboard functionality is the comparison period feature that helps you to compare your data serie(s) to the previous period (last period or the same period last year). This option is extremely valuable, as many simple software solutions don’t have it, but particularly important if you want to have proper comparisons of your data within one chart. Additionally, to these advanced chart options, an intuitive drag-and-drop interface is a must-have.
A basic requirement for creating a professional dashboard is the possibility to add text, images, and icons. These options simply enable you to add your own textual content and external images. Plus, extremely useful would be that the software provides its own icon library where you can simply search and select out of thousands of icons, and make basic edits such as changing colours.
- Built-in icon/widget libraries save time within the dashboard creation -
Additionally, dynamic text boxes/images often supplement your data visualisation story and reduce the risk of overlooking valuable information when you need to know whether your business trends are performing well or need additional adjustments. If you have an implemented value or criteria that are under your specified benchmark, a clear exclamation mark will show you that this KPI is underperforming and needs attention. On the other hand, a checkmark will provide a clear signal that the KPI is performing well and the viewer will have an obvious cue of the overall metric’s functioning. This filter can be implemented on various KPIs within the dashboard and provide additional insights for each and every data needed. It is extremely useful since the dashboard itself will alert you if any differences happen, so manual calculations are no longer necessary.
You will also need a function that will enable users to add specific explanations or additional information to text boxes and images: information tooltips. It is triggered once you hover over with a mouse which enables you to see, for example, a definition of a specific KPI or notes about the data you need or present at a meeting. This is useful to include in a dashboard since definitions and specific explanations are available just by hovering, so the user doesn’t necessarily need to remember every little detail s/he wanted to say or explain.
You can easily set up global dashboard filters with many different constraint values, such as text fields with equal to, less than or equal to, between, among others, and many additional variations and possibilities to combine them. While global filters are standard, there are additional important dashboard features to consider: the first enables you to effectively manage and apply dynamic time fields which you can easily edit for every chart on your dashboard. This kind of an interactive calendar will ensure you can flexibly navigate through past figures and also compare your data for specific time frames.
The second important feature is the hierarchical filter, where the selection from one filter influences the selection of another. Besides having a standard global dashboard filter (that filters the whole dashboard for selected variables with a few clicks), hierarchical filters help you to manage related filters effectively. For example, you select a product category and automatically the related product filter selects the relevant products of the concrete category. Simple, and no manual work needed. The third important feature is cross tab connected filters – basically, they’re global filters that get dynamically synchronised and applied in multiple dashboard tabs. For example, you have generated a dashboard with 5 tabs, and by applying this filter on only one tab, it can be automatically applied to other dashboard tabs without the need to create it 5 times.
One of the dashboard capabilities needed in this modern age is the accessibility anywhere, anytime, from any device. Thanks to cloud technology, modern SaaS solutions brought revolution in flexibility, scalability, the cost-effectiveness of data storage and access. Anyone in your team can swiftly access the tools and web-based dashboards without the need to manually update the information or request support from the IT department – the vendor takes care of each step of your way. You also have the possibility to set-up a refresh interval of 5 minutes or 24 hours, for example, and have your visualisations up to date, accurate, and ready to explore. The cross-device functionality will enable you to access your dashboard from desktop, tablet or mobile devices, the only requirement is an Internet connection and your access is instant. You can also request for on-premise solutions, but it might make sense to double-check the platform availability – there are on-premise versions that don’t run on Mac, which might be relevant for your specific business case.
We have mentioned some of the interactive dashboard features a dashboard should have such as dynamic text boxes/images and text fields, but there are many more and we cannot stress all of them since the list would considerably expand. You can check out 10 essential interactive dashboard features in the video below.
First, we will focus on drill-downs. A drill-down shows you additional, more specific, and detailed information of a particular element, variable or KPI, without overcrowding your data dashboard. By simply clicking on the specific KPI, the drill-down will expand on the screen showing you the KPI with detailed information, without overcrowding the dashboard. A time interval widget is another interactive feature that allows you to enhance individual time scales on different charts on your dashboards with an interactive drill-down function. You choose the time interval of the data displayed on your chart using a date or time field on the X-Axis with a click of your mouse. Use this function to move from a yearly to a monthly, weekly or daily view of your data without changing the time period displayed on your whole dashboard. This is especially helpful if you want to change the time intervals of single charts really fast without affecting other data visualisations on your dashboard.
We continue with the chart zoom feature that provides multiple layers of knowledge allowing you to see a 30,000-foot view of your data or zoom into the minute. This function lets you drill-down into the smallest unit of time for charts using any date or time field on the X-Axis. Finally, a click-to-filter allows dashboard users to utilise the dimensions of the dashboard’s charts and graphs as temporary filter values. It’s as easy as clicking on any data set in your charts. This action seamlessly creates a quick filter that applies to the data of your dashboard and delivers new insights in an instant.
In general, it is the countless interaction possibilities of modern dashboard software that give users the flexibility they need to view dashboards from different angles. This is also one of the major advantages over ineffective PowerPoint or Excel solutions.
You need a dashboard tabs feature to structure your data. For example, you can have a marketing dashboard with SEO, Google Ads, and social media tabs. This is more efficient than having one dashboard for every marketing channel and easier to digest than cramming all the visuals into one view. That way, your reporting can be done more cohesively. Let’s move to another example. Your data-driven company wants to see a dashboard on a big screen in the office. A great approach to present this dashboard is by using a full-screen mode in combination with a tab rotation function. By applying this feature, the tabs on your dashboard will alternate on the screen in a specified time interval. You can also catch the attention of the user by adding chart animations. Choose a software providing different types and styles of animation depending on the chart types displayed on your dashboard. The animation should be triggered each time you open a tab or refresh the dashboard. By defining the animation speed and type, you can easily control the way animations will work and affect your data presentation.
Artificial intelligence is used in dashboard programs and BI tools to help automate processes that enable you to generate new actionable insights. AI assistants are built to provide you with the possibility of asking direct questions in the software interface, and the intelligent assistant will generate an appropriate selection of charts or simply answer your query. Intelligent data alerts, as we mentioned, use neural networks, pattern recognition, and threshold alerts to notify you as soon as you reach a goal or a business anomaly occurs. These intelligent algorithms can prevent serious damages simply done because large volumes of data can’t be processed manually in a short amount of time. They help you to identify trends, spot patterns and relax since you don’t have to manually analyse or manage your data, dashboards and, ultimately, your business. Artificial intelligence can help you to develop your business potential and effectively monitor your data, save precious time and resources while gaining the possibility to self-regulate processes you choose and need. Generally speaking, even AI, machine learning, and similar terms are used as buzzwords in recent years, which might be an ongoing trend in the next years as well.
Predictive analytics is one of the features that is becoming more and more a standard in business operations and potential development. Professional software will contain this feature since it provides a company with the possibility to use advanced mathematical models to predict what will happen next, and ensure the best possible data-driven decision environment. By using historical and current data, the software can automatically calculate what will occur in the future. It simply works by utilising a forecast engine that will enable you to run predictions based on past data points.
- Easy-to-use predictive analytics tools help to calculate reliable forecasts -
Simply insert your desired points, define the future output, set the model quality (usually 95%), and the software will automatically calculate the predictions and apply your changes. The visual output will neatly show you what will happen straightforwardly, without the need to perform advanced statistical and mathematical equations manually. Such a true self-service capability and approach eliminates complicated predictive analysis and gives the average business user the power to analyse and visualise the future, and make informed decisions on a level that wasn’t possible until now.
Last but not least, sharing your dashboard is critical, especially if you need to deliver up to date information quickly and accurately. Standard sharing options include manual exports and email reports that aren’t customisable, but there are additional, and extremely useful options such as customisable email reports per recipient or groups. You want to be able to deliver a report with different filters, for example, to regional sales managers only. A modern reporting dashboard software will enable you to easily select your recipients and deliver automated reports based on specified filters values, so you don’t need to manually export data for each team or dataset you manage.
Other convenient options include sharing the live dashboard directly via public URL or enabling a secure viewer area where you share the dashboard by enabling viewing rights only. If you want to take a step further, you can even embed the dashboard directly into your application, website or intranet, for example. But that’s not all; while dashboards are extremely powerful when they are live and interactive, sometimes you have to print them out. A printing bounds feature helps you align your dashboard to an export format. This way you can make sure that your dashboards export into a neat PDF or PNG format without breaking any charts or graphs, making boardroom presentations even easier.
By putting data into the hands of all employees you empower each department to take accountability for their numbers and understand how they align with the company’s strategic direction. With the help of professional dashboarding software, you will open up the world of business analytics by granting everybody in your company access to relevant insights and creating a data-driven culture.
That’s why we have created this list and tried to keep the research as objective as possible, considering also features identified by biggest software review pages such as capterra, g2crowd, financesonline, etc. No matter if you need a small business dashboard software or large enterprise solutions as a perfect partner in visual data management and dashboard creation, these features are a must-have if you want to thrive in today’s competitive environment.
At datapine, we have developed intuitive, automated, intelligent, and affordable solution that covers most of these features and you can easily test our software, book a demo or request a POC and let us create an individual dashboard just for you, completely free. Try datapine for a 14-day trial today, and reap great rewards tomorrow!
Take advantage of modern dashboard software features today!