24 Must-Have Dashboarding Features

Apr 5, 2018

If you’ve ever shopped for software before, you know that after about three product demos, the details start to bleed together. Keeping track of one product’s features is hard enough; keeping track of multiple usually results in your brain abandoning you to whatever notes and/or vague feelings you managed to cultivate over the course of your demo spree.

What we’re saying is, it helps to come prepared. Drafting a proof of concept checklist will not only force you to prioritize your desired features, but also serve as a handy note-taking tool. Of course, formulating such a list requires a fair bit of research into the BI status quo, so we thought we’d give you a leg up with this list of must-have dashboarding features. 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.

Fundamentals

These are basic dashboarding 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 dashboarding tool should be web-based so that users can access their data 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 dashboarding solution with functionality to match.

4. Role-Based Data Views

This really should go without saying, but it’s 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. (After all, what is a dashboard but a conglomeration of reports?) You should be able to structure your authorization protocol any way you like—categorizing users based on company and department, by clearance level—whatever makes sense and, ideally, whatever coordinates best with the authorization system your application already employs. This way, different users can run the same dashboard but only see the data they have permission to see. Chart animations are all well and good, but security comes first.

Data

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 dashboarding solution can report off of 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 on dashboards. Viewers don’t need a loading animations every time the dashboard refreshes because they’re already looking at the dashboard. We feel 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 dashboarding 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? Nobody, that’s who. 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 dashboarding 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 dashboarding 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 dashboarding 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.

17. Drilldowns

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. Linked reports don’t show the original chart’s detail data—they show related data of the report author’s choosing and are terrific tools for getting more information out of a dashboard without taking up more canvas real estate.

19. Parameters

“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. Leaving sales quota and sales goal open as variables make it possible for her to reuse that dashboard instead of building all-new reports each month. Instead, she just enters her current quota and goal numbers when she runs the dashboard, and her reports all reflect her progress accurately.

Filtering

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 report elements on a dashboard. It would, for example, make sense in a sales department meeting to have a filter on product type controlling a revenue breakdown chart, but it might not make sense for that filter to control quota gauges. Knowing that mitten sales only gets the team 3% of the way to quota might not qualify as 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 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.

24. Printability/Exporting

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 SaaS Dashboard Design Guide.

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