3 reasons to hate BI dashboards

Today's business intelligence dashboards aren't any more intelligent than they were two decades ago, analyst says. Is there room for improvement?

Just as eyes are the windows to the soul, business intelligence dashboards are the windows to corporate progress. They are ubiquitous, appear in many forms and configurations, and are offered by many vendors. 

Keyboard Photo by Joe McKendrick

In the service-oriented space, portals have been key to service delivery, and there has been a lot of impetus to enable end-users to build their own dashboards, in the form of enterprise mashups that pull in any data designated.

No discussion about BI and analytics is complete without a discussion about the dashboards that will deliver the actionable data.

However, Ventana Research's Mark Smith has something to say about today's BI dashboards. Basically, they're "pathetic."  Why?  They're essentially a bunch of bar charts squeezed onto a page. He provides three reasons for hating today's dashboards:

1. They haven't gotten much smarter in the last 20 years: "The early forms of dashboards appeared in the 1980s, but today’s dashboards have not gotten much more intelligent in all those years," Smith points out. "The graphics have gotten better, and we can interact with charts in what is commonly called visual discovery so you can drill into and page through data to change its presentation. So some progress has been made, but the basic presentation of a number of charts on the screen has not improved significantly and worse yet neither has the usefulness of the charts."

2. They don't prioritize information: "Just presenting charts tuned to the context of the individual’s role that may or may not require action is not enough," Smith states. "We need to prioritize the information and make it like the news, with headlines and stories that people can read to determine if they need to make decisions or take action. Whether you are reading the physical or the digital version of The Wall Street Journal or USA Today, newspapers have survived over the centuries as the main source of what humans read in formats they can comprehend. When is the last time you saw a dashboard that communicated the story of its charts and explained the analytics?"

3. They don't help individuals take action based on the information they receive: "To date, most developments of the notion of an action-enabled dashboard have focused on data discovery and supporting root-cause analysis," Smith explains. "That can’t match the familiar people type actions that happen in our organization – collaboration through dialogue to address issues and opportunities."

So there you have it. Is Mark Smith on target with his criticism of dashboards? Are we attempting to view 21st century organizations and 21st century challenges through a 1990s window?

As I mentioned above, one of the most encouraging developments -- starting with Web services and service oriented architecture, and carrying over through Web 2.0, cloud and now cloud -- is the increasing ability of  individual business users to build their own interfaces to get at the data they want for decision-making. Then, there's the simplicity of providing mobile apps that provide easy-to-follow, essential data on any mobile device. Self-service BI may be the push needed to bring dashboards  into the 21st century.

(Photo: Joe McKendrick.)