Reporting: Dashboards, Analysis Tools and good old ‘paper-based’ Reporting.
There are many different ideas of what a dashboard is. This article attempts to shed light on what we consider to be the differences between the multitude of ways you can use your Vantage Online data to better inform your business.
One of the challenges with a more mature product like our legacy Service Accent system is that you are often tied to only be able to ‘run’ physical reports. Vantage Online was designed from its inception to make it easier for clients to access their business critical information in the most appropriate way, taking into account the intended use of the data. Typically, there are three types of presentation media: dashboards, visual analysis tools, and reports. These are all visual representations of data that help people identify correlations, trends, anomalies, patterns, and business conditions. However, they all have their own unique attributes.
We quite like Stephen Few’s definition of a dashboard:
A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.
Here are some of the key characteristics of a dashboard:
- All the visualizations fit on a single screen — scrolling to see more violates the definition of a dashboard.
- It shows the most important performance indicators/performance measures to be monitored.
- Interactivity such as filtering and drill-down can be used in a dashboard; however, those types of actions should not be required to see which performance indicators are under performing.
- It is not designed exclusively for managers and directors, but rather should be used by the general workforce as effective dashboards are easy to understand and use.
- The displayed data automatically updated without any assistance from the user. The frequency of the update will vary by organization and by purpose. The most effective dashboards have data updated at least on an hourly basis.
Visual Analysis Tools
Some consider tools that offer the ability to select various date ranges, pick different products, or drill down to more detailed data to be dashboards. At Vantage, we classify these as visual analysis tools and we deliver them through the dedicated Analysis Centre that is, perhaps, the single greatest improvement in the reporting capabilities deliverable via Vantage Online.
Here are our key characteristics of a visual analysis tool:
- It fits on one screen, but there may be scroll bars for tables with too many rows or charts with too many data points.
- It is interactive and often provides functionality like filtering and drill downs.
- It is primarily used to find correlations, trends, anomalies, patterns, and business conditions in data, but should also be capable of being printed and/or exported in a similar way to a report.
- Traditionally the data used in a visual analysis tool is generally historical data. However, in Vantage Online there are many cases where real-time data is analysed.
- It helps to identify performance indicators for use in dashboards.
- It is typically relied on by more technically savvy users and those in business, service or account management roles.
Reports contain detailed data, often in a tabular format, and typically display numbers and text primarily. However they can often use visualizations to highlight key data. There are times when only a report will do, typically this is when a lot of complex information needs to be read or analysed or when you want to read the report at your leisure. In Vantage Online we’ve introduced the capability to auto-schedule and auto-delivery many of the reports so that you can ensure that internal and external stakeholders receive exactly the information they need, when they need it. If the MD wants an account profitability report or a monthly meter billing summary report on their desk on the first Monday of every month – bingo – it’s delivered straight to their inbox on time, every time,
Here are the key characteristics of a report
- It presents numbers and text in a table.
- It can contain visualizations but only used to highlight findings in the data.
- It is optimized for printing and exporting to a digital document format such as Word or PDF.
- It is geared towards people who prefer to read data, or for situations where there is too much information to display effectively on a single screen.
Whilst the ease of use and overall functionality of any software solution is possibly the most important consideration, we have found that the difference between good and great is often how simple it is to get meaningful, actionable information that helps you to make timely decisions. You put all this ‘stuff’ into a system – the least you should expect is to be able to get that’ stuff’ back.
In designing Vantage Online to utilise comprehensive dashboards, reports, visual data analysis and a user-definable csv exporter which we haven’t even mentioned in this article – we have just begun the never-ending process of attempting to provide the most cost-effective, user-friendly and comprehensive service management and billing platform we possibly can. We’re already working on incorporating advanced Business Intelligence and Predictive Analytics into the software and are currently evaluating a whole host of industry-leading solutions to identify which offers the most potential value to our clients.
Whether you need your information on paper, through live Dashboards or via the ground-breaking Analysis Centre one thing we are confident of is that there is not currently a service management solution available for the office equipment, mps and managed services market that takes reporting more seriously that we do at Vantage.