Of course, formulating such a list requires a fair bit of research. We thought we’d give you a leg up with this list of essential business intelligence dashboard requirements. In addition to describing each feature, we explain why we think it’s important so that you can better gauge its value to your own business context.
These are basic dashboard requirements, as far as we’re concerned.
1. Embedded Dashboards and Dashboard Designers
We’re an embedded BI solution, so no surprises here. The ability to embed not just dashboard output but the dashboard design space itself on any page of your host application is paramount. We believe your users should be able to view, manipulate, and build dashboards wherever you, the application architects, feel makes the most sense.
2. Cloud-Based Access
Your dashboard tool should be web-based so that users can access their data sources from anywhere at any time.
3. Mobile Ready
There are a few different flavors of mobile readiness out there, so decide which best describes your application and then pick a dashboard solution with functionality to match.
4. Role-Based Data Views
This really should go without saying, but it is absolutely crucial that you, the administrator, be able to dictate which end users see what data.
This is as important for dashboards as it is for reports. You should be able to structure your authorization protocol any way you like, ensuring that different users can run the same dashboard but only see the data points they have permission to see. Chart animations are all well and good, but security comes first.
It’s as much about what you’re viewing as how you’re viewing it.
5. Real-Time Data
Executing a report is what’s known as an “expensive” process in the BI world. With all that’s involved in querying the database, joining tables and/or sources, performing calculations, adding sorts, and applying filters, executing a whole dashboard of reports can be quite a feat. But up-to-date information is essential to business operations, and dashboards are no exception. Confirm that your dashboard solution can report off live data, not just cached data.
6. Automated Data Refreshes
To protect both your database and your users from traffic jams, you should absolutely have the ability to dictate how often your dashboards refresh. Check for a refresh timer as well as an override for that timer. You never know when you’ll want fresh data right away!
7. Silent Data Refreshing
Hourglasses, progress bars, and other loading animations should boost users’ confidence in the application, not diminish it. They’re tremendously useful when users don’t have anything to look at and need confirmation that the program is working, but they are not necessary when viewers are already looking at the dashboard. Dashboards should update quietly and without fanfare for a smoother user experience.
Dashboard Creation & Design
With all that admin-level stuff out of the way, let’s dig into what you’ll want for your users!
8. Drag-and-Drop Editing
Something about the tactile experience of dragging and dropping UI elements, we find, dramatically diminishes the learning curve. The interaction becomes more literal and less conceptual, facilitating user adoption and shortening the time it takes to build dashboards and visualizations. Look for drag-and-drop controls as you evaluate dashboard solutions for ease of use.
9. Mix and Match or Build From Scratch
Users should be able to add existing tables, gauges, charts, maps, and other visualizations to a dashboard canvas directly from the report library. Conversely, users should also have the option of building new charts and tables within the dashboard designer itself. This saves users the hassle of hopping from one tool to the next and recreating existing reports.
10. Global and Local Styling Options
Who has the time to style ten reports exactly the same way? Save your users a world of tedium by ensuring they have the ability to apply dashboard-wide styling and override that styling on a chart-by-chart basis.
11. Snap-to-Grid Placement
No more counting pixels! Handy dashboard solutions help users place report elements on the canvas using a grid structure. This facilitates symmetry, clean spacing, and professional-looking output.
12. Predefined Chart Themes
Not all of us are artistically inclined enough to come up with harmonious color combinations, so make sure your dashboard solution comes with plenty of premade themes as well as the option to create your own!
13. Numerous Chart Options
This one might require a little bit of user research on your part. Determine whether your industry verticals make frequent use of one or more particular visualization types, then prioritize those. In general, make sure your BI’s dashboard tools support a range of visualization types, including the old standards.
14. Data Format Options
Your users should have ultimate control over how their data is formatted. Check for date, number, and currency formatting options.
15. Dynamic Images
It’s important that users be able to include images—logos, headshots, icons, photographs—on their dashboards and be able to control how those images respond to changes in screen/window size. Nothing hurts the appearance of a presentation like pixelated images.
16. Web Page Embedding
Sometimes you just want another fully interactive page embedded directly into the dashboard itself. Maybe it’s a corporate landing page or an order form or a Google Doc. If it makes sense for your users to see that content alongside their analytics, they shouldn’t have to open a new tab and browse for that content.
Drilldowns allow users to see chart detail data in tabular form. So if they’re looking at a chart of quarterly sales data broken down by sales representative, a drilldown would display not only those totals appearing on the chart but also the data contributing to those totals. Even if discount information doesn’t appear on the chart, a drilldown could offer insight into Bob’s new markdown strategy.
18. Linked Reports
Not to be confused with drilldowns, linked reports display information related to the data in question. If the quarterly sales chart described above contained a link on transaction date, clicking on the column for Q1 might spawn a chart or table with other Q1-related information, like a Q1 expense report or hiring summary, rather than the original chart’s detail data.
“Parameter” is just a fancy word for variable. On dashboards, parameters can be used to filter or transform data.
Once again using the sales example described above, let’s suppose a sales representative checks her dashboard each morning to assess her progress, but her sales quotas and goals change from month to month. If her sales quota and sales goal are treated as variables, she can simply enter her new goal and quota numbers each month instead of building a whole new dashboard.
Why does filtering have its own section? Well, think back to the last time you booked a flight online. How many times did you find yourself tweaking the date, time, airport, and price settings? Filters help users answer “what if” questions as they arise.
There’s no telling what your users will want to see, so your dashboard filters better be flexible.
20. Global and Local Filters
It’s important for users to be able to apply a filter to either all or some of the elements on a dashboard.
It would, for example, make sense to apply a product filter to a revenue chart but not make sense to apply that same filter to a sales quota gauge. (Knowing that mitten sales only gets the team 3% of the way to quota isn’t valuable information.) Whenever filters only control some reports, there should be some visual indication of which those are.
21. Display Filter Values
This should go without saying, but users need to be able to see the filter criteria they’ve applied. A range slider with no values is just a guessing game no one wants to play.
22. Static and Interactive Filters
Remember that online flight booking you made? Every time you changed a search setting, you were using an interactive filter. Interactive filters allow users to limit their data output in real time.
Static filters are also important, however. You may not have realized it at the time, but the online booking platform you were using was already filtering away all sold-out or cancelled flights because they’re just not useful to someone looking to purchase a ticket.
23. Change Charts on the Fly
Just as you might want to filter in real time, you also might want to reconfigure in real time. The ability to change chart type, color scheme, and sort order means users can change their perspective at a moment’s notice. Maybe it made sense to view monthly sales chronologically at one point, but now it would be more useful to see which months performed the best relative to the others. A quick sort adjustment could bring out those insights.
Last but certainly not least, there’s no substitute for being able to export, save, and print. Dashboards should be no exception.
For a similar list of must-have features for tabular reports, check out “Can Your Operational Reporting do THIS?” If you’re interested in dashboard design tips, download our Dashboard Design Cheat Sheet.