In 2013, big data emerged as one of the most used tech terms. From conferences to trade publications to water-cooler discussions in offices, it dominated all conversations in the BI space. Many businesses started seeing big data as the way to keep up with the ever-increasing speed of business.
However, these businesses also realized that data holds no importance until it is analyzed and understood. In a rapidly changing business environment, the ability to make an informed decision and to make it quickly is of prime importance. This created a need for more visibility into data, quicker access to performance metrics, and better reporting. A study into operational BI conducted by the Aberdeen group in February 2012 found that 65 percent of business managers faced a shrinking decision window, meaning that they had to respond to business events more quickly than ever. The research further found that organizations that used visual data discovery were more likely to find the information they need, when they need it.
This need for visual data discovery gave birth to the information dashboard.
The information dashboard as we know it today is not a new concept. Think of Google Analytics. It is a powerful tool in the hands of the digital marketer, providing her key insights into her website traffic.
What is new about the information dashboard is its widespread adoption. Static visualizations, in the form of reports, relied heavily on the IT teams. The new-age information dashboards have revolutionized the way users interact with data in three ways:
- By visualizing data, dashboards make it easier for users to understand and comprehend the story in the data.
- By providing all relevant data at one place in one screen, dashboards reduce the dependency on a user’s short-term memory. It also simplifies raw data collection by automatically linking to the various data sources that a user needs to analyze.
- With their interactive visualizations and ability to slice and dice data, information dashboards make users more self-sufficient. They no longer need the IT team to generate customized reports for them.
With that self-sufficiency comes greater business autonomy. According to Aberdeen Group research, nearly two-thirds of companies using visual data discovery allow business managers to initiate and drive new analytics projects. Among companies not using visual data discovery, that number is less than half (44 percent). In addition, 50 percent of businesses using visual data discovery enable business users to perform simple integration of their own data. This number is considerably lower (16 percent) among companies that do not use visual data discovery, as this requires assistance from the IT team.
The information dashboard is being used in several BI roles, including monitoring real-time operations and alerting users about deviations (operational dashboard), helping users understand trends and find the reasons behind them (analytical dashboard), and helping executives to understand the health of the business and identify potential opportunities for growth and expansion (strategic dashboard). The roles may be varied, but the task is the same – to provide actionable insights to the end user, as quickly and clearly as possible.
And it’s not only companies with deep pockets that are buying into the benefits of data visualization. FusionCharts’ clients range from one-man startups to Fortune 500 companies to government institutions to the world’s leading banks, who are using its graphs and charts to build their information dashboard. In March 2003, five months after we launched, we had only 100 customers. Today, 22,000 customers in 120 countries use our products.
Moving forward, dashboards promise to continue to grow in adoption, reporting capabilities and functionality. No longer satisfied with the usual bar and column chart to represent their data, dashboard users are coming to FusionCharts looking for a wide selection of charts that can represent their data correctly. Heat maps, multi-axis charts, spark charts, and bullet charts are increasingly finding a place in dashboards. Users also are looking for features like drill-down, zoom-in, interactive legends, smart label management, and charts/reports that can be exported in multiple formats.
Given the rise of the mobile user and the plethora of devices that have cropped up in recent years, a unified experience across devices, browsers and platforms is a key prerequisite for the next generation of dashboards.
As robust and feature rich as today’s information dashboards are, in the near future we are likely to see dashboards that are more customizable, more responsive and context aware. To provide more context to data, the dashboards will graduate from just providing data on the location of a specific asset to prioritizing information by geographic proximity. Location-intelligent mobile dashboards, for example, will alert store managers about the shortage of a SKU as they pass through the aisles of their store. Marrying social data with location analytics will allow future dashboards to add more context. Correlating social media signals with location data can determine whether a Facebook mention represents a marketing issue, an operational problem to fix, or an outlier.
Expect the dashboards of the future to be more dynamic as well. Due to technological developments in both in-stream and ad-hoc processing, it will be easier to get real-time updates on the dashboard directly. While earlier users had to be satisfied with historical analysis of data, the dashboards of the future will not only allow real-time analysis but also enable users to predict the future, identifying trends and behavior patterns before they occur.
With its interactive and intuitive features, the information dashboard is revolutionizing the way we look at data and becoming an indispensable part of the modern, state-of-the-art big data toolkit. Giving users the power to make more informed decisions based on insights garnered from their data, it is an essential BI tool, helping users to solve their data riddle.
Shilpi Choudhury is a writer at FusionCharts, an enterprise-grade charting solutions that has clients like NASA, Microsoft, Cisco, GE, AT&T, and World Bank. She blogs about data visualization, dashboard design, and best practices in charting. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.