Web-based dashboards, based on self-service technologies like Tableau, PowerBI, Qlik and GoodData, provide a quick and informative solution for displaying KPIs and other business critical data. Their simplicity in enabling users to visualise and interpret information, interactivity and real-time capabilities are ensuring that their use is increasing in demand.
In an exclusive interview, Veselin Petkov, Director of Business Analytics at GemSeek shares key trends and hot topics related to the changes dashboard adoption is propelling.
1. Broadening scope of applications
Since their emergence in the late 1990s, dashboards have been recognised as a key instrument for business performance management, and have been widely used to visualise operational KPIs (such as sales, margin, financials, production, deliveries, etc.). In the last few years, however, the scope of data entering BI dashboards has expanded exponentially. Nowadays, these interactive technologies are becoming a preferred tool for storing, analysing and distributing market research, marketing and strategic planning information and even competitive intelligence data – a change that is both driving the development of the technology and transforming how organisations structure their internal processes.
2. Centralisation of dashboard initiatives
Previously, the use of BI dashboards within companies was largely a decentralised function, where different divisions would manage and maintain individual systems.
Petkov is confident that soon this will no longer be the case: “With organisations paying increasingly more attention to transparency and inter-company knowledge transfer, standardisation is now on the rise and growing in prominence. This has led to dashboard implementations becoming more of a centralised activity across company-wide initiatives.” The trend to consolidate and streamline the implementation of dashboards for business purposes is also driven by changing business expectations and the need to make insights actionable and readily available.
3. Increased adoption across all companies
Small and large companies alike are starting to employ off-the-shelf dashboard solutions due to their ease of implementation. Initially, it was largely smaller and mid-range companies which took advantage of the interactive reporting solutions, while convoluted decision-making structures and loyalty to massive BI providers such as IBM and Microsoft prevented big corporations to utilise more agile dashboard solutions such as Tableu, PowerBI and Qlik.
Petkov alerts that this, too, is changing: “Large companies are opening up to the idea of straying away from the Big Brand solutions which are not only more expensive, but also have much heavier functionalities that often remain unused. Corporate leaders are starting to realise that there is no need to create a team of 20 developers to run a complicated tool. Smaller solutions can yield higher benefits.” As dashboards’ utilisation for marketing and strategic planning grows, the lower volumes of data relative to transactional or sales sources encourage the implementation of more flexible and agile tools.
4. Market consolidation of dashboard solutions
Although there is a whole cohort of Tier 2 providers with similar functionalities, the market is consolidating around the three main leaders already mentioned – Tableau, PowerBI and Qlik. Petkov’s prediction is that it will become ever more difficult for smaller (or newly established!) players to compete in this arena. Unlikely to be able to offer the competitive pricing, customer support and wide range of functionalities of the top actors named earlier, they will probably remain overshadowed by those same industry chiefs who have harnessed an impressive public following. Tableau, for example, has a thriving community of fans who create copious content, making the product’s adoption easier and more attractive to first-time users.
A growing number of companies are finding the outsourcing of dashboard creation to 3rd party providers more time and resource-efficient. Why build an internal team involving selecting, hiring and training employees, and then worrying how to offload them when the job is done, when you can call in a 3rd party expert to develop a solution tailored to your needs.
As companies strive to centralise their dashboard initiatives and HQs take on the task of deploying dashboards to all national and regional offices, outsourcing will continue to gain traction. With 80% of the work on implementing BI dashboards done during set-up, it makes sense to have an external provider get the tool rolling, and stay on call with a maintenance contract whenever something needs to be changed, instead of hiring and training an employee for each office.
6. New adoption drivers
The initial appeal of web-based interactive dashboards overstated their intrinsic benefits – things like their cool visualisation capabilities, chart options, flexibility. Nowadays, adoption is driven by the ability of web-based BI dashboards to yield cost and time saving and therefore – offer tangible ROI. Whereas until recently 10-20% of the budget of every market research project would be allocated to reporting, a dashboard requires set up only once and can visualise new data immediately after it is added to, say, the SQL database feeding the tool.
Delivering more than data visualisation
Amongst industry experts the role of dashboards is no longer seen as a tool simply used for data visualisation.
Petkov explains that this topic has created great debate in the industry. “Interactive dashboards,” he points out, “increasingly have the capabilities to be data analytics platforms, however, what we see in business is that they are currently widely underutilised and mostly employed as visualisation platforms.”
Regardless of whether companies create their own tools or use off-the-shelf solutions, the professionals managing the dashboards often lack data analytics expertise. As a consequence, they are not taking full advantage of the tools’ data analytics capabilities, often without realising it. Sellers, Petkov argues, use this skillset gap to their own benefit, claiming to offer data analytics dashboards when they are really only providing data visualisation tools: “Data analytics is about employing quantitative and analytical methods on datasets to bring out information that is not immediately obvious. To show a break-down of the respondents in a survey by age groups, race or sex is not analytics.”
With many concerned about when and how best to deploy BI dashboards in their organisation, Petkov suggests that the way forward is to follow the steps of companies using the introduction of dashboards as a launch-pad to lift the analytical fluency of staff members across the board, with accompanied training and clarification of the analytical methods visualised in dashboards.