Four Essential Ways to Improve your Reporting Dashboards from Good to Great

March 13, 2019
By Thomas van Hellemondt
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Thomas van Hellemondt

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In many organizations, dashboards, reports, and visualization are sometimes seen as an end-goal rather than a means to an end. But in essence, reporting is not about building as many reporting dashboards as possible; it should be approached as a way of improving corporate performance by using the data effectively.

Great financial reporting dashboards and tools support organizations by lifting corporate performance to the next level. It’s about influencing organizational behavior to achieve better results. Below, we outline four ways your organization can make the jump from good reporting and financial dashboarding to great.

1. Good reporting dashboards display data, but a GREAT dashboard provides insight.

There’s a difference between seeing data and using it effectively. At first glance, you might think your data reporting is simply about locating and visualizing the right information. This is true—to some extent. But, in reality, reporting goes deeper. It not only gives you data, but also lets you interact with it in order to gain a deeper insight into corporate performance.

From good to great:

  • Provide analysis tools to users for more insight (i.e. drill-down capabilities, change POVs, and change filters and predictions).
  • Use different data from different sources in a single view, table, or report to be able to explain the causality between those and provide greater insight.
  • While tables are the most commonly used visualization tool, the combination of a table with a meaningful graph is a better way of explaining and “telling the story.”
  • Financial data alone can’t explain the story behind the numbers. Use comments to explain what has happened and why.

Great financial reporting dashboards lift corporate performance to the next level by influencing organizational behavior to achieve better results.

2. Good reporting dashboards show variances, a GREAT dashboard tracks key performance.

Financial goals take precedence over other objectives, at least in most businesses. However, financial results are the outcome of many different processes, all of which contribute in some way to the bottom line. Defining and measuring Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) will allow you to gain better control over corporate performance, and will help in aligning financial results with corporate strategy.

From good to great:

  • When it comes to data visualization, less is often more. While dashboards give you the freedom to track and report on any metric you want, it’s important to avoid data clutter in your reporting. Exclude information that’s redundant or doesn’t contribute directly to your KPIs.
  • Organize your reports by KPI. If the goal is to launch a new product in the coming quarter, offer users a breakdown of every data point related to this objective.
  • Tracking important KPIs isn’t just about providing progress updates on your goals; it’s about finding new ways to reach them faster. When you effectively analyze performance, you can discover what you’re truly capable of.

3. Good reporting dashboards uncover problems, a GREAT dashboard directs actions for solutions.

In order to improve business performance, reporting is not simply pointing out issues to overcome. It should also point in the direction of success. The key is to focus your reporting dashboards on actionable data, or data that allows you to see a plan of action. In many cases, this involves multiple metrics that, when viewed together, reveal a hidden relationship between them.

From good to great:

  • Prioritize the central issues by using calculations to display or highlight variances above a certain threshold.
  • Use colors—green, yellow, red—to highlight important variances that require attention. Your dashboard will be easier for users to interpret.
  • Exception reporting, ranking, and benchmarking are great visualization tools that give decision-makers the information they need to improve corporate performance.
  • Agree on an action to close the current variance. This agreed action item is then stored in the dashboard report.

4. Good reporting dashboards look nice, but a GREAT dashboard offers interactive collaboration.

Reporting is about telling a story. What has happened and why? And what are we doing now to improve our performance? But it’s not a one-way street; the storyteller needs to allow the listener the chance to interact, feed back their comments, and ask questions.

From good to great:

  • Different audiences require different information; make sure you channel the right data to the right recipient.
  • Including financial and non-financial data from different resources requires collaboration, aligning definitions and interpreting the outcomes.
  • Challenges are inevitable. Even the most successful organizations have learned to build on past success and overcome failure. One of the most important functions of your financial dashboard reporting tool is anticipating these challenges so you can find ways to prevent them.

Improving financial reporting—and ultimately corporate performance—won’t happen overnight. It requires joined-up thinking between reporting teams and the rest of the business. And it demands a willingness on both sides to take the necessary actions outlined above and to track the progress made on the most important indicators.

Make sure the end objective, great, not good, is clear to everyone involved.

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