How to get a dashboard
Dashboards – Buy Software, build it yourself or hire an agency?

Data becomes ever more prevalent in businesses and as a consequence businesses become increasingly more data-driven. Interactive dashboards are emerging as the best way to distribute the most relevant data in an organization and to foster insights and informed decisions. The ways to a dashboard system are manifold:

Each path has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the scenario and the data required.

Buying a data warehouse (DWH) and integrating all data is the riskiest and most expensive proposition, but also the one with the biggest payoff - if a company is going to hire data scientist to really make use of all the data. A visualization software like tableau helps users to visualize data from the DWH and make it available in the company, but it also requires some expertise to handle the data ware house and of course the visualization software requires additional funds for licenses.

In recent years companies started to offer dashboards in the form of KPIs that are imported from numerous cloud services, e.g. web analytics, social media, marketing tools, and many more. They are well suited, if a selection of preset KPIs are enough and no advanced features like timeframes, filtering or segmentation are required. They usually show the number for the last 30 days and are very well suited for smaller companies who are not yet steeped in data sources and who are mostly interested in monitoring, less in analyzing.

Building your own system is the way many software companies go, especially if there are enough custom requirements not met by other software vendors. It's often a case of "not invented here" though and the complexity of building it is usually underestimated whenever data needs to be extracted, transformed and visualized in a pleasing and useful manner. It's rarely a good way to spend your resources when other options are available or you are content with a simple system. A very different case is the visualization of data that is an integral part of a product, e.g. Google Analytics should probably not abandon its interface and instead offer a tableau account connected to the collected data. We have been approached by several companies to build their dashboard component within their system, but in the end it is unwise to outsource a central component of your software to a third party. Instead a charting library like highcharts should be integrated to visualize the internal data.

The multitude of options and data sources requires a lot of work and if resources are scant hiring an agency is another option. Some agencies have experience with different tools and can give guidance regarding the tool selection and they can consult a company in the selection of relevant data sources and KPIs, especially if they have a longer relationship with a business. Depending on their normal business and specialization they might be able to also to connect all relevant data sources to the dashboard, but so far the agencies specializing in this area are rather small. Also, as long as they are not writing the dashboard software themselves, they will be limited in the amount of customization they can offer.

Finally, there is the KPI Wall approach, where we have built a feature rich dashboard framework, which we can quickly adapt to the customer’s needs. We provide the software and can quickly change it or add features as required, but will also do the agency part of guiding the KPI selection and importing the data from all kinds of sources. This approach is not as cheap as buying a standard software package, but it is cheaper than buying a software package plus agency and it delivers a ready to use dashboard instead of a software license. We think it is the best option.

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