Anthony Hill, Geeks2U’s head of technology, authored the below blog for SmartCompany.
While business nous, gut instinct and a head for numbers will get you a long way, a dashboard helps you visualise your raw business data so you can see how you’re tracking and view the road ahead.
If it’s your job to keep your business on track then you’ve probably got a fair idea of how things are going without the need to call up spreadsheets or dive into the books.
The raw numbers are there when you need them and you might know how to read them, but you still shouldn’t underestimate the importance of visualisation tools to offer insight into your business data and help you focus on what’s most important. They’re also useful for conveying important information to key stakeholders.
There are plenty of advanced business intelligence, data analytics and visualisation tools out there – they’re quite powerful but they can seem like an expensive extravagance for a small business.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking business executive dashboards are only for the big end of town, in some ways they’re more important for small businesses because you’re more vulnerable to bumps on the road.
Regardless of your size it’s important that you can easily take the pulse of your business and see what lies ahead. It’s worth investigating the various dashboard tools on offer, but meanwhile you can cobble together something surprisingly effective just by getting to know your way around the graphs and conditional formatting tools built into your spreadsheet software of choice.
Pie charts and gauge-style graphics are particularly useful for letting you see what’s important in a glance. Colour coding is also powerful, it might seem a little childish but don’t underestimate the impact of a dashboard light indicating whether a key business metric is green for “healthy”, orange for “needs improvement” or red for “demands action”.
Don’t worry about too many fancy bells and whistles and don’t make your dashboard too crowded, keep it simple so it can tell a compelling story at a glance.
Of course the effectiveness of your dashboard relies on knowing which are the most important KPIs, metrics, numbers and ratios to indicate the true health of your business. Find the one which is most telling and perhaps a few others that influence it.
Your dashboard should look ahead, not just in the rear vision mirror. There’s no point in patting yourself on the back for a bumper quarter if you can’t see the huge dip in your sales pipeline looming ahead.
Tapping into your historical data can also help you spot the trends from the anomalies to help navigate through the ups and downs of the year.
There’s no need to track everything and it’s not necessary to update your executive dashboard in real-time, as long as you’ve got enough insight to identify and correct little problems before they become big ones.
If you don’t know which are your most important business metrics then you’ve got more important things to worry about than a dashboard. You’ll benefit more from taking the time to figure out what really makes your business tick and how you can influence that, after which it will be much easier to determine the best way to visual your business health at a glance.
If you can’t afford to fall asleep at the wheel then it’s worth considering how an executive business dashboard could help you navigate the road ahead.
David Hancock is the founder and managing director of Geeks2U, a national on-site computer repair and support company.