1. Why Build Dashboards?

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Build Your First Dashboard

11 lessons , 3 exercises

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Dashboards are a convenient way of extracting insights from data. Find out why and how companies build dashboards in this lesson.

Lesson Notes

What is a dashboard?

- Easy-to-read, single-screen interface
- Shows the key performance indicators (KPIs) of a business unit
- Often contain charts and graphs as well as numerical calculations

Why use a dashboard?

- Saves managers and teams a lot of time
- Improves the quality of analysis in the business
- Should ultimately lead to better decision-making


Data dashboards are one of the most popular analysis tools in business. Managers and company executives demand fast access to summaries and insights from our data, and dashboards are the tool of choice for performing this task. In prior courses, we learned how to use tools such as VLOOKUPs, pivot tables, and other techniques to extract valuable information from raw data. In this course, we're going to put these learnings to use and create a sales dashboard for a sample company, BloomAcre Software, which sells its product through annual subscriptions to enterprise customers. The company has 15 sales managers that serve around 4,000 customers across the US. BloomAcre has experienced rapid growth since its founding four years ago and expects to continue this growth in 2013. The finished dashboard that we will create for BloomAcre will extract the information from a raw sales dataset and look something like this.

Before we get started on this case study, let's discuss dashboards in a bit more detail. We'll start off with a question you might be asking yourself, what is a dashboard? Well, dashboards are easy to read, single screen interfaces that show the key performance indicators, or KPIs, for a business unit. As in our case example, they often graphically show the information in the form of pie charts, and bar charts, and contain buttons so that a user can interact with the dashboard. Another question you might be asking yourself is, why do companies use dashboards? Well, dashboards provide managers with a quick, high-level overview of the business, and make it easier to spot trends and obtain insights from the data. As a result, dashboards can save managers and teams a lot of time, and improve the quality of their analysis, which ultimately leads to better decision making, and better results for the company. So, how are dashboards normally built? In this course, we're going to build our dashboard with Excel, but there are a lot of other tools that you can use to build dashboards. Let's first look at some of the more expensive bespoke software packages, such as Tableau and Qlik, that allow you to create insightful dashboards either from simple datasets in Excel, or by connecting these programs directly to your server. Compared to these sophisticated tools, Excel offers a cheaper, more flexible, but ultimately less advanced dashboarding solution. However, for many analysts who are very familiar with Excel, and without the budget to purchase additional software products, it's pretty much ideal. I should also mention that Microsoft's latest version of SharePoint also enables analysts to create complex dashboards directly from the data stored in a database or server. With this introductory lesson out of the way, we'll start our dashboarding process in the next lesson by identifying BloomAcre's sales KPIs.