Stop Your Business Reporting Dashboard From Turning into Wallpaper

There’s a simple but significant problem with most types of business reports: It’s extremely tough to get people to read and act on them. It just doesn’t seem to matter how much money you’ve invested in state-of-the-art reporting software, how any resources you’ve poured into data scientists analyzing information, or how much your C-Suite talks about the importance of business intelligence. Most data simply goes unnoticed and unloved.

And the problem doesn’t go away just because you’re using a business intelligence dashboard. Indeed, that can sometimes even cause other issues – especially if the dashboard’s interface design is clunky or otherwise inaccessible. “Dashboard design efforts can easily run into trouble,” notes TechTarget commentator Alan Earls. “Many business intelligence dashboards, meant to present BI data to business users in an easy-to-grasp way, instead end up representing a triumph of form over substance and sizzle over steak. But it doesn't have to be that way.”

You could have the prettiest business reporting dashboard, but if the right people aren’t engaging with it, then it’s just animated wallpaper.

“The importance of proper dashboard design should not be understated – poorly designed dashboards could fail to convey useful information and insights,” writes Sisense’s Eran Levy in a recent blog post, “and even make the data less comprehensible than it was originally.”

So, how do you go about getting stakeholders to care about what they see, and justifying your investment in business reporting capabilities? The answer is pretty simple, actually. You need to tie your dashboard to your bottom line.

Start at the end and work backwards, and you’ll force your stakeholders to care.

Bringing Revenue, Profit, and Your Business Dashboard Together

Businesses exist for one main reason: to make money. Any factor that has the power to meaningfully impact that central purpose will immediately grab the attention of the people who matter and ensure things get done, fast.

That’s why you should always tie business reporting and dashboards back to financials, wherever possible. Here’s a step-by-step process for pulling it off.

1. Understand the Main Drivers of Revenue and Profit in Your Business

Start by identifying the key processes and areas that generate revenue, cost money, or drive profit. For example, marketing, sales, and product development all help to generate revenue, operations and customer service cost money, and cost control can help to enhance profits.

Ask all stakeholders about the most important business decisions they make. Every senior manager across your business will have different criteria and decisions they make on a daily basis. Take notes down about the most impactful, urgent, and necessary decisions they need to make on a regular basis.

2. Map Those Processes Out And Find The Key Measures

Once you have a better understanding of the types of operational decisions your C-Suite makes day in day out, dive into each of those processes to find the metrics required to make those decisions. Find out if you’re already collecting data that can be analyzed and used to illuminate the decision making process. If you’re not already collecting that data, create measurement solutions that can add insight to business decisions.

The idea is to learn what you need to measure in each step to find out how that process is performing. For example, your sales process will go through a number of stages to convert a potential customer into a paying one. Identify what those stages are.

3. Attach A Financial Value to Each Part of The Process

Use existing metrics, sales, and operations figures to attach a financial value to the various parts of your processes. Work with your data scientists to understand how efficient and effective your processes are at generating or spending cash. Apply those values to your business process measurements, alongside more traditional metrics.

For example, if you know you make $40,000 in sales per day through your website, this means that when your site goes down for 45 minutes, you’ve potentially lost $1,250 in sales.

4. Show That Value in Your Business Dashboard

This is where all of the above steps start to pay off. The whole point is to show these financial values in a business dashboard. When you have revenue, expenditure and profit figures all up there, front and center, anything that has a real, tangible impact on those is going to get minds to focus and take action quickly enough.

You can set up customized dashboards for your stakeholders, but the main trick here is to convert the data and information into business intelligence that specifically supports decision-making. Rather than showing data “in the raw,” specifically label the information in a way that’s directly relevant to business decisions. For example, “99.2% percentage availability” by itself isn’t very meaningful, whereas “Six hours of website unavailability in the last month” is. They’re both displaying the same information, but the context makes a big difference.

Worth the Effort

Running through these steps will require some major effort on your part, and you’re likely to run into some friction along the way, but it’s worth it.

“We pulled all the people [who regularly contact] students together in one room and challenged them to build something that ensured better student outcomes," Sidney Fernandes, CIO at the University of South Florida, recently told Network World. "We were able to build something quickly that allowed them to pull information from different systems and break through the barriers. We delivered it in 10 weeks. But most importantly, they saw it as ‘their system’ – so we essentially built organizational change management into the development of the application itself.”

Sisense’s Eran Levy agrees that there’s major ROI to be found in empowering management to make rapid, data-informed decisions. “Every company has its problems, and often data-driven methodologies can help solve these problems,” he asserts. “Whether it’s high customer churn rates or ballooning operational costs, data analysis can help you understand where your business is stumbling as well as suggest possible causes and solutions. The ability to perform fast and accurate analysis of complex data is one of the main benefits of business intelligence.”

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