Learn to Design Visual Data Dashboards

There are many reasons companies recruit data analysts and some are obvious: data analysts can uncover opportunities to improve the business. These opportunities can be external, such as discovering new markets, or internal (finding ways to improve efficiency, for instance).

There is another important reason: Experts in data analysis — especially those with the right educational background and talent — can present data in ways that make it accessible to company leaders who don’t have formal training in data analysis.

Today, one of the best ways to make this data accessible to decision-makers is through visual presentations, specifically through data “dashboards.” By designing dashboards that managers can use, data analysts can break down the wall between analysis and action. When the right information is presented in an easily understood format, company leaders can quickly respond to market situations.

Professionals pursuing an online Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Data Analytics will receive in-depth instruction on how to visualize data and design dashboards to effectively present compelling information.

It’s important to note, however, that along with dashboard design, the core MBA courses give students the fundamental business knowledge they need to understand which data is important in different business settings. Data alone isn’t necessarily relevant; it has to be the right data and gathered for the right time frame. In the business world, this gives a professional with an MBA in Data Analytics an edge over a pure statistics expert.

Dashboards Relate KPIs

Part of the challenge is understanding and identifying the “key performance indicators” for the company’s business environment. However, due to the complexity of the business environment, identifying the best KPIs is not a simple task. The goal is to present the data that conveys complex issues to a non-technical audience in a way that they can understand and make the best business decisions.

If the wrong data — or incomplete data — is presented, decision makers may make poor choices. For example, a data storage company had a dashboard that looked at its customers by which type of media they used, how satisfied each segment was, and how long customers in each segment tended to remain customers. It presented those attributes to help management find the best segments to target. However, the dashboard did not capture the impact of low price-point customers which lead the company to spend millions of dollars marketing to customers who didn’t have a high lifetime value. Until they discovered their oversight, they failed to increase their marketing to their most valuable market segment.

Dashboards Replace Reports

In the past — and today with less savvy business organizations — the data behind these complex issues would be relegated to tables in the back of a report. Today, data analysts have more visual tools at their disposal, which helps them improve communication and put the data into proper perspective.

Some of the visual tools used today, depending on the nature of the data being communicated, include gauges, global maps, pie charts, trend lines and heat maps. Another twist in dashboard design is that many users view the dashboard on a mobile device so designers need to know how to present the data for a variety of screen sizes.

Dashboards Tell Business Stories

Business dashboards help tell a story with powerful and communicative graphics, but it is also vital to tell the right story. This means that one of the most important tasks when building a dashboard is to distill the information down to the most important points.

When you’re providing C-suite executives with the information they need to make important strategic planning decisions, for example, you should keep in mind that their time is valuable and they need the greatest clarity possible. Identifying the right KPIs and displaying them in the best way possible is an important skill to learn.

With the Internet of Things and other sources creating almost limitless data, well-designed dashboards are certain to become an increasingly important tool for business leaders. MBAs who know how to design and create these dashboards are and will continue to be in high demand.

Learn more about the USI online MBA program with a concentration in Data Analytics.


InformationWeek IT Network: The Case for Compelling Executive Dashboards

InformationWeek: Big Data Dashboard Design Lessons

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