Best Practices for Creating Useful Dashboards

Sharing the Dashboard – Distribution Strategies

Now that you’ve built your dashboard you can begin to share it.  A few important things have to be considered when building the distribution strategy.  From discussing the dashboard in meetings to daily update reports, to even printing out the form and dropping it in someone’s mailbox or on their desk each dashboard has to be consumed by the reader and it will likely be on a regular basis.  Here we outline a few options and lay out some best practices for these options.

Independent of the medium of distribution there are two main facets you will need to have the Business Owner of the project outline for you:

  • The distribution audience, what level of sophistication and knowledge they will have
  • The schedule with which the dashboard will need to be accessed.  

Knowing the schedule can change the distribution strategy.  If the information on the dashboard needs to be available to the consumer updated at an up to the minute pace, email distribution or printing the dashboard out to paper are not desired modes of operation.  So, determine frequency first, then use that information to help you decide on a mode.

Paper copy

In a previous life, I was an analyst for a fairly large company.  One of my daily tasks was to deliver a dashboard printed on paper to a VP daily.  The VP either wanted it on their desk or to be handed to them directly. This wasn’t that intimidating to me because I had been at that company for many years longer than the VP, but I was still an analyst and nowhere near the VP suite.  I could handle that particular handoff quite easily because the VP and I had built up a rapport and they had a reputation as a very approachable person. Still, I wanted to keep up a level, or at least an appearance of a level, of professionalism so I made sure the dashboard was delivered in the following ways.   

  • Timely
    • Do not miss the scheduled delivery time.  From one perspective your company needs the consumer of this dashboard to be informed fully and on time in order to make the most informed decision for the direction of the company.  Before the distribution is to begin, so sometime during the planning phase, set a schedule and keep to the schedule.
  • Securely
    • You may not know the sensitivity of the information to the consumer so at least at the beginning, respect discretion.  After you’ve printed the dashboard put it in a folder and make sure the papers in the folder cannot be seen when the folder is closed.
  • Personal Delivery
    • At first, you will want to deliver the dashboard in person to keep up a necessary rapport for the feedback loop we will discuss later.  Delivering it in person will always give you the opportunity to ask questions, even if the answer is short you will be able to gather some information on how the dashboard is fulfilling the consumer’s needs.

Television or monitor

Dashboards can be stylized and formatted to be displayed on Televisions or other large monitors throughout an office.  You can see the problem with needing to scroll here, it isn’t an option. I have often visited customers of Chartio and have seen their dashboards presented on, sometimes, multiple television sets mounted to the walls of bullpens, office spaces, conference rooms, and even lunch/break rooms.  

This type of distribution is casting a fairly wide net and all consumers are going to have opinions.  Sometimes those opinions are going to be in disagreement with each other and in the next section, we will discuss options to remedy that problem.  In most cases, distribution to television will change the scope of the consuming audience so much that the team leader or the Business Owner responsible for the project is probably going to be your main contact regarding audience.  So knowing when and how they want the display shown, refreshed, and changed will be the key piece.

From a technical side, there are a few other concerns you will want to discuss with someone from your company’s IT department or, knowing how small and agile companies work these days, at the very least someone who was responsible for mounting the televisions on the walls.  You will want to know how the television connects to the network so you can determine how to even get it on the TV in the first place. You may need a dedicated computer or to set up a wireless connection through Google Chromecast, Apple TV or similar technology. You will also want to know the television’s resolution, this will determine the overall design of the dashboard so you will want to know this piece early on in the process.  Be prepared to test and troubleshoot these connections and displays before you officially launch the distribution.

Interactive display

Interactive displays are largely the easiest way to distribute a dashboard project.  Software and services that provide dashboarding programs are either through on-premises software installation or internet accessible SaaS platforms.  You will want to know which one you are dealing with. It will impact your ability to distribute the dashboard to the consumers.

In the on-premises software installation, you may need to ensure that all necessary parties have the software licensed and installed on their computers.  You may need to check to see if the service provides some kind of browser-based access to the dashboards and make sure you provide the necessary training to the consumers.

For SaaS type dashboarding tools, having login credentials, some basic training, and access to the dashboard’s URL is all that the consumers will need.  Many of these platforms also provide you with the ability to set access permissions so you can rest assured that your dashboards work will not be accidentally deleted by a user without the necessary training to be a dashboard editor.

Email

Emailing the dashboard, or a snapshot thereof, can be handled in one of two ways.  Either the dashboard view on your machine is screenshotted and pasted into an email, which could be an arduous process.  Or, you may be able to set up regularly scheduled reports in the dashboard software. The three main things to know here…

  • Distribution List – You have to know the names or at least the email addresses of the consumers.  FIrst and most important you have to know where you will be sending this email.  Teams may have group or team email addresses that will then forward to the entire roster of that team as well.
  • Level of accessThe level of access for each addressee will often dictate what kind of information will be presented on the dashboard but you’ve already sorted that out in the first phases of the project so that shouldn’t matter here.  What will matter, as far as access is concerned, is whether or not the software can deliver a report to a person not in the users list for that software or outside of your organization so you will want to determine the level of access and whether or not the addressee is internal or external to your company.
  • Schedule – If you are setting up a regularly scheduled email, you have to know the frequency.  This type of distribution is probably not going to be any more frequent than daily, possibly twice daily but that is unlikely.  Understand the frequency and if your software does not provide report scheduling you may need to set yourself a reminder.

As the dashboard project becomes ready for distribution it may be advisable to reach out to the distribution list.  When you reach out to them, let them know they’ve been added to a distribution list and advise them what the content is.  To avoid the email finding its way into spam or having a necessary user inadvertently set up a filter to push the email to a folder without reading it, let them know the frequency of the distribution some key facets of the dashboard information, who is the Business Owner of the project, and some key words in the Subject line.  These are all important to help the addressee understand that this email is valuable to their business needs and they do not dismiss it or ignore it entirely.

Embedding

This is the most technical of the distribution options.  This requires access to your websites code base or discussions with the members of your team that have that access.  You will also need to know the key ingredients to embedding a dashboard. You will need to know if your website supports technologies like iFrames and JSON Web Tokens  (JWT) and you will have to work with someone technical with access to the code base of the website in order to ensure these technologies are plugged in properly and appropriately.

Understanding how the dashboarding software might impact the security of your website is a key factor here.  You may want to confirm a few things like, what kind of security key might the software be using to assure that embedding requests cannot be tampered with or spoofed.  For example is the JWT using a signature mechanism. You will also want to know whether or now your safe, through either regulatory limitations or company policy, to share sensitive data through a JWT.  Finally, you will want to make sure you can revoke end user access if needed.

Conclusion

You’ve built the dashboard and now you want to distribute it.  Showing off the fruits of your hard work are a rewarding pastime so be proud once you’ve set up and initiated the distribution.  Following the above guidelines will help you finalize the publication process and begin to share the information with those that need it, to help your company move forward.  Once they start reading this data, they’re going to have feedback. Our final lesson in this guide will give you some tips for how to set up a feedback loop.