Transforming Information Into Insights: Reporting, Scorecards and Dashboards
Tom Hoblitzell | | April 29, 2021
Organizations have more data at their fingertips than ever before—but they also need to transform this information into clear, actionable business insights, especially in a visual format.
Brain scientist John Medina, for example, has found that people will remember 65 percent of information presented as a picture three days later, but only 10 percent of spoken information.
The goal of business intelligence (BI) and analytics tools is to enable smarter, data-driven decisions by converting raw data into meaningful visual and text representations. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the most powerful BI and analytics tools that you have on hand: reporting, dashboards and scorecards.
What Is BI Reporting?
BI reporting uses business intelligence and analytics tools to automatically collect and analyze data and generate reports for human consumption, presenting this information in an easily readable and digestible fashion.
The contents of a BI report will differ depending on the underlying data; they may include both text summaries and visual representations. The most common types of charts and visualizations in BI reports include:
- Pie graphs, for percentages or proportional data.
- Line charts, for showing trends over time between independent and dependent variables.
- Waterfall charts, for showing how positive or negative values evolve over time.
- 3D area charts, for describing the relationship between three variables.
- Decision trees, for modeling a decision-making process.
Importantly, BI reports are usually generated on a recurring, scheduled basis; often, they’re created overnight based on the preceding day’s data, so that they can be on key decision-makers’ desks the next morning. This delimited time window distinguishes reports from other BI tools such as dashboards that operate in real time.
What Are BI Scorecards?
BI scorecards are reports that summarize your performance and progress in terms of one or more business metrics and KPIs (key performance indicators). Scorecards are effective because they provide the most salient, valuable information at a glance for decision-makers who are pressed for time—for example, the number of current active users, the number of orders in the past week or the average monthly revenue over the past six months.
What Are BI Dashboards?
BI dashboards are a data visualization tool that displays the real-time status of one or more business metrics and KPIs. The contents of a BI dashboard are usually customizable by the user and include multiple components, such as line graphs, bar graphs, pie charts, tables and status indicators. For ease of use, these components may come with tooltips, labels and text boxes that explain how to interpret the data.
Importantly, BI dashboards are often interactive: they allow users to drill down into the numbers, doing their own research and coming to additional conclusions beyond the surface-level ones presented in the dashboard panel. For example, users might apply a filter to the data based on a date range or geographic location, helping answer ad hoc queries. BI dashboards are also (near) real-time: they are connected to data sources such as databases and spreadsheets, and then refreshed and updated on a regular basis.
BI Reporting Versus Scorecards Versus Dashboards
BI reports, scorecards, and dashboards all have the goal of helping you make better business decisions and forecasts, but they go about it in different ways. Reports are typically non-interactive and based on a specific time range, while dashboards are interactive and up-to-the-minute. Scorecards are specialized reports that monitor a few select metrics, letting readers quickly understand progress on a particular KPI.
When building reports, scorecards, and dashboards as part of your BI workflow, follow good design principles such as:
- “Form follows function”: The visualizations and infographics you select for a given report or dashboard will depend on how they are intended to be used in the big picture. Should your visualization be static or interactive—explanatory or exploratory?
- Remove unnecessary elements: Explanatory visualizations (those intended to emphasize an argument) should contain only the information they need to communicate a particular point. Simplicity is key: with new reports constantly arriving on their desk, readers don’t want to wade through unnecessary details to get to the main point.
Reports, dashboards and scorecards are all valuable, effective components of a good data storytelling initiative. To build them, however, you’ll need the right tools at your disposal. Want to learn more about building out your organization’s BI and analytics initiative? Check out our white paper “From Raw Data to Insightful Stories: Transform Analytics into Innovation.”
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