Dashboards - Enabling Data-Driven Decision-Making

Dashboards are one of many hot topics basking in the glow of marketing’s current focus on data -- but how do you actually get one set up and ready to work for you?

Here are 10 steps for getting the right data to the right people at the right time through a dashboard:

1. Decide to act.

Dashboards can help organizational leaders monitor the health of their organization through a single interface that presents Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) in a way that enables sound short- and long-term decision-making. For many organizations, this represents the first step in actually using all their data rather than simply drowning in it.

Dashboards can help improve both performance and the decision-making process, and can make complex data inviting and accessible with low barriers to entry. But the first step is deciding to make them a part of your plan.

2. Find an internal champion. Ideally you will already know who in your organization is sold on the idea of using data to drive business decisions. This person or team will take a dashboard project and run with it, with the goal of winning small victories and then replicating successes across the broader organization.



3. Sit your champion -- and his or her team -- down for a session to identify the group's business objectives.

4. Map those objectives to measurable KPIs. For instance, if a business objective is to "improve customer retention," you might choose to measure a group of KPIs that collectively provide a good measure of how you are performing in this realm. We would be looking at a combination of things like repeat visitors to your site, repeat purchasers on and offline, email unsubscribe rates, average time between purchase, loyalty card adoption, social sharing, and anything else that can contribute data points, that together paint a picture of performance. Repeat this exercise for each of the defined business objectives.

5. Identify where you will get the data you need to capture. Obvious places to look will be Web analytics data sources, CRM systems, email solution providers, social media-monitoring solutions, internal sales data and any other sources you can add to flesh out KPIs.

6. Figure out the locations and formats of your various data points. Some will be available through APIs (application programming interfaces), while others may live in databases or reside in flat files.

7. Sketch out what your dashboard will look like. Many of the best, most usable dashboards literally start with a pen and the back of a napkin. But keep it simple and avoid the temptation to overcomplicate. Remember: the whole point is to provide an at-a-glance decision-making tool.

This is also the time to choose the right visualizations for the data you are surfacing. Perhaps you need to simply look at trends (line graphs over time) or maybe you need to compare geographies (geographic heatmaps), channel sources (bar graphs) or simply track progress to a goal (gauges and success meters).

And don't forget to organize related data points into thematic tabs or sections, i.e., an "impact from social" tab or a "repeat customer activity" grouping.

8. Make the back of your napkin a reality.  You can use anything from spreadsheet applications to very expensive tools and professional services implementations.  A common place to start is with one of a host of third-party tools that can quickly connect to common APIs and data sources. These enable you to choose from a variety of visualizations, and allow you to lay them out in an easily accessible, Web-based interface without too much technical know-how.

9. Show it off.  A dashboard is only useful if it is used, so be sure to promote and disseminate to everyone who stands to benefit from the data. You will likely be the talk of your organization...and then you can help other departments take their first steps into data-driven decision making.

10. Play, experiment, and refine. Know from the beginning that dashboards are living assets. New business objectives and KPIs will surface as you gain sophistication and as technologies advance. Don’t be afraid to revisit the data, the sources, and the visualizations to ensure that your dashboards are relevant and useful in driving and measuring the impact of confident decisions.


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