4 min read

BI Is More Than a Dashboard

User interface must meet business needs.

Although dashboards are a hot topic in business intelligence (BI) circles, a successful BI deployment involves more than putting one between user and data. It requires careful consideration of users' access needs, technical skills and roles in the organization. A one-size-fits-all approach to implementation can lead to low adoption and usage. Planning with users in mind is a cornerstone of preparing BI to deliver real business value across functional groups and management levels.

To increase BI adoption and thus the value conveyed by access to needed information, companies must tailor the software user interfaces to the needs of different business groups. Dashboards, for example, are used primarily by executives and line-of-business managers to manage by exception without having to search through multiple reports and spreadsheets to see what is happening across departments, products, customers and geographical regions. Our research on dashboards shows that the most important criteria for user satisfaction are access to multiple data sources, the ability to drill down into supporting detail, ease of defining/adding key performance indicators and the ability to change perspectives on the fly.

Our research on Microsoft Office and BI shows that managers who need to explain current levels of business performance most often use PowerPoint to communicate their findings. In more than half of organizations we polled, presentations are created and updated on at least a weekly basis, and managers almost always have to provide additional information not in the slide deck as part of the process of delivering the insights to their audiences. The most important criteria for user satisfaction here are the abilities to create and update PowerPoint files without cutting and pasting charts from Excel and to access BI semantic layers to perform ad-hoc queries directly from PowerPoint.

Analysts are a technically and business savvy user group that want to use spreadsheets to model scenarios and run allocations that test the assumptions used to create corporate goals and plans. They also need to be able to demonstrate to other groups of decision-makers where the data came from and the accuracy of the business logic. The most important criteria for user satisfaction are ease of accessing centralized data and calculations, the ability to convert BI report formulas to Excel formulas and preservation of formulas and formatting when a query is refreshed.

Our research on operational BI shows that front-line workers access information most frequently through prebuilt HTML or PDF reports. These workers also run custom reports to get information not available via the prebuilt templates; they do so by selecting query parameters from predefined lists built into the user interface. The most important criteria for user satisfaction here are access to financial and operational data, the ability to support multiple output formats, ease of scheduling report delivery and the ability to create custom reports without having to know SQL or Excel functions and macros.

Our research shows user evaluations of application success are significantly higher for IT organizations that involve users in defining the information access requirements. So IT organizations that want business users to recognize the value they provide should ensure BI interfaces are tailored to the needs of the various business groups that use them. Ventana research therefore recommends that when evaluating vendors as candidates to become the corporate standard for BI, a primary evaluation criterion should be the product's ability to address users' access needs, technical skills and roles in the organization flexibly.

About Ventana Research
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