Making Sense of Business Metrics via Dashboards

If you're in an operations role at your company, chances are you're bombarded with business metrics information all day long. If you're like me, you probably keep multiple tabs open, or have bookmarks that go directly to various report pages. Pie charts, bar graphs, spark lines, gauges, meters, maps, and tables fill your day as you try to make sense of it all.

In a recent strategic planning meeting, my good friend Roni Zeiger referred me to a company called Klipfolio. This wasn't my first time looking at dashboard services, but definitely the first time it made sense. I had previously sat through a demo of Domo at eTail West. While there isn't anything inherently wrong with Domo, for $20 per month per user, Klipfolio is at the price point my NPO budget can afford.

So...where to start, right? In order to get started with building my dashboard, I first had to understand what I wanted to track. Suddenly, the possibilities were endless. I made a mental list:

  • Social presence. Facebook insights are relatively easy to connect, and instantly rewarding. Below, you'll see I've created a chart that tracks 3 dimensions of insights: impressions, new likes, and engaged users. This mimics the standard view on Facebook. But hey, you don't have to go there anymore.

  • More social presence. I quickly found out that the best part about social media API is that it's rich data and it's reliable. I have several panes on my dashboard that give me two dimensions of any given social platform. For example: Facebook followers and people talking about us; Twitter followers and number of tweets; Mailing list subscribers and open rate.

  • Distribution. We have a growing eCommerce store, as well as a literature supply chain that goes out to cancer centers around the country. It's great to visualize which states and countries they're going to, and in what frequency.

  • Event attendance. Exactly the same as distribution, but flipped, and with human beings.

  • Cash flow. Donations, sponsorships, store revenue. You can do all sorts of fun things from creating thermometer like gauges with goals, as well as pie charts to see how your different campaigns stack up along side each other.

After two months of tinkering, that's where I've landed, but it's not exactly the end of the story. There are a few other aspects of creating your dashboard.

  • Audience. Who are you showing this to? In my case, I can drag and drop different panes easily. If you plan on using your dashboard as a tool during a sales pitch, you will definitely need to modify and cater it to each specific meeting. I have also contemplated creating a "read only" version. Luckily, with Klipfolio, you can choose to share different panes with other users. This is great if you have people under you who might need to see only bits and pieces of information rather than everything under the hood.

  • Data sources. API, XML, CSV, or JSON? (Who came up with these crazy acronyms, anyway?) In terms of data sources, API is ideal. As I mentioned, social API is up the majority of the time. I do have a pesky data source that is in and out. I really never know if my charts and graphs will populate. XML reports are static, but easy to work with. CSV files are also static, but a bit more customizable for specific reporting purposes. The data source will determine how efficient your dashboard is vs. how much manual updating it will require. Always shoot for API/JSON first.

If you're using a dashboard service or thinking about using one, I'd love to hear what you plan on tracking in the comments below.