Adrian
3 min readMar 22, 2024

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Dashboards - Part I: Dashboards Are Dead & Other Crap

Data Analytics Series

I find annoying the posts that declare that a technology is dead, as they seem to seek the sensational and, in the end, don’t offer enough arguments for the positions taken; all is just surfing though a few random ideas. Almost each time I klick on such a link I find myself disappointed. Maybe it’s just me — having too great expectations from ad-hoc experts who haven’t understood the role of technologies and their lifecycle.

At least until now dashboards are the only visual tool that allows displaying related metrics in a consistent manner, reflecting business objectives, health, or other important perspective into an organization’s performance. More recently notebooks seem to be getting closer given their capabilities of presenting data visualizations and some intermediary steps used to obtain the data, though they are still far away from offering similar capabilities. So, from where could come any justification against dashboard’s utility? Even if I heard one or two expert voices saying that they don’t need KPIs for managing an organization, organizations still need metrics to understand how the organization is doing as a whole and taken on parts.

Many argue that the design of dashboards is poor, that they don’t reflect data visualization best practices, or that they are too difficult to navigate. There are so many books on dashboard and/or graphic design that is almost impossible not to find such a book in any big library if one wants to learn more about design. There are many resources online as well, though it’s tough to fight with a mind’s stubbornness in showing no interest in what concerns the topic. Conversely, there’s also lot of crap on the social networks that qualify after the mainstream as best practices.

Frankly, design is important, though as long as the dashboards show the right data and the organization can guide itself on the respective numbers, the perfectionists can say whatever they want, even if they are right! Unfortunately, the numbers shown in dashboards raise entitled questions and the reasons are multiple. Do dashboards show the right numbers? Do they focus on the objectives or important issues? Can the number be trusted? Do they reflect reality? Can we use them in decision-making?

There are so many things that can go wrong when building a dashboard — there are so many transformations that need to be performed, that the chances of failure are high. It’s enough to have several blunders in the code or data visualizations for people to stop trusting the data shown.

Trust and quality are complex concepts and there’s no standard path to address them because they are a matter of perception, which can vary and change dynamically based on the situation. There are, however, approaches that allow to minimize this. One can start for example by providing transparency. For each dashboard provide also detailed reports that through drilldown (or also by running the reports separately if that’s not possible) allow to validate the numbers from the report. If users don’t trust the data or the report, then they should pinpoint what’s wrong. Of course, the two sources must be in synch, otherwise the validation will become more complex.

There are also issues related to the approach — the way a reporting tool was introduced, the way dashboards flooded the space, how people reacted, etc. Introducing a reporting tool for dashboards is also a matter of strategy, tactics and operations and the various aspects related to them must be addressed. Few organizations address this properly. Many organizations work after the principle “build it and they will come” even if they build the wrong thing!

Originally published at https://sql-troubles.blogspot.com.

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Adrian

IT professional/blogger with more than 24 years experience in IT - Software Engineering, BI & Analytics, Data, Project, Quality, Database & Knowledge Management