What is a data dashboard?

Published 2021-08-04, updated 2024-02-12

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Summary - Design, customize and share dashboards to monitor the health of your business, department, or processes with a lightweight BI tool like PowerMetrics.

Data dashboards are valuable tools that transform complex data into clear, actionable insights. Whether you're a seasoned data analyst or a business leader looking to leverage data for strategic decisions, you must know how you can leverage the different types of dashboards for your organization.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • What is a data dashboard?
  • How do data dashboards work?
  • Benefits of using a dashboard for your business
  • Dashboards versus reports: similarities and differences
  • Which metrics and KPIs should I put on a dashboard?
  • 5 tips for customizing your data dashboard
  • Common challenges in dashboard design and implementation

Let's get into it!

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What is a data dashboard?

A data dashboard is an information management tool used to track, analyze, and display key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and data points. You can use a dashboard to monitor the overall health of your business, department, or a specific process.

Dashboards are customizable, too. You can build a dashboard that supports the specific needs of your users. If you’re a founder or executive for a cloud-based CRM system, your dashboard should display SaaS metrics. If you’re a digital marketer, your dashboard should display marketing metrics.

The ultimate purpose of data dashboards is to enhance the interpretability of data. This way, everyone in your organization can draw meaningful and accurate conclusions for your business’s growth.

How do data dashboards work?

Behind the scenes, dashboard software connects to your files (like an Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet), attachments, services (like QuickBooks or HubSpot), and APIs. A dashboard transforms the raw data into something human-readable. Instead of sifting through columns or rows in a spreadsheet, you can analyze your data in a table, line chart, bubble chart, or bar chart, just to name a few options.

Basically, data dashboards connect to various sources and collect data. They then clean up the different data formats and load them into one platform. Let's dive into how these dashboards work, transforming raw data into actionable insights.

Data collection

As mentioned, data dashboards connect to your files (like an Excel spreadsheet or Google sheet), attachments, services (like QuickBooks or HubSpot), and APIs. It integrates with each of the platforms you use and automatically gathers data from these systems.

By pulling data from multiple sources, dashboards provide a comprehensive view of an organization's operations. These also filter out unnecessary data to make sure you only receive information that’s relevant to your business’s needs. 

Modern dashboards are capable of accessing real-time data, providing up-to-date information that is crucial for timely decision-making. Moreover, they have a user-friendly interface so that teams can easily understand the presented data.

Data visualization

After collecting data, it’s prepared for visualization. The dashboard’s intended audience and use guide how data will be displayed.

Nonetheless, users still have full control over the visualization type to use for the dashboard. Ultimately, it’s about making data analysis more efficient for you and your organization.

Types of visualizations

These are the most common types of visualizations:

1. Tables

Tables present data in rows and columns, which make it easy to read and compare different sets of numbers.

These have features like sorting, filtering, and customizing which columns to display so that users can organize data according to specific criteria. You can also create summaries, like totals or averages, at the bottom to give a quick overview of key figures.

As such, you get to focus on particular data points or trends. If you’re doing detailed data analysis, this visualization type is ideal.

2. Line Charts

Line charts are best for showing how data changes over time. These let you plot data points on a graph and connect them with a line so it's easy to see upward or downward trends.

You can display multiple lines for different data series, which is great for comparing trends across different categories or time periods. Users can also highlight specific data points on the line, like peaks or troughs, to draw attention to important moments. Furthermore, some line charts allow you to zoom in for a closer look at the data or scroll across different time periods.

3. Bar Charts

Bar charts use horizontal or vertical bars to show comparisons among categories. Each bar represents a category with its length or height proportional to the value it represents.

You can assign color codes to the bars to emphasize the difference between variables or to represent different data sets within a category. There are two types of bar charts: stacked or grouped.

Stacked bars show part-to-whole relationships. On the other hand, grouped bars place bars for different categories next to each other. Both types allow for easy comparisons across different categories.

4. Bubble Charts

Bubble charts display data in three dimensions by using the position of the bubble, its size, and its color to represent different data points. These charts are perfect for showing complex relationships between data since you can compare these three different variables all at once.

They’re often interactive as well. Users can hover over or click on bubbles to get more information about the data they represent.

5. Custom Visualizations

Some dashboards include advanced chart types like heat maps, radar charts, or tree maps. With these, you can dig even deeper and analyze complex data relationships.

Heat maps use color-coded cells to represent data values, while radar charts display multiple variables on a circular graph. Meanwhile, tree maps show hierarchical data using nested rectangles.

The flexible nature of data dashboards makes them the perfect tool for analyzing and leveraging data to meet your business needs.

User interaction

Dashboards often include interactive features that allow users to engage with the data, such as:

  • Filtering information 
  • Drilling down for details
  • Altering timeframes

These interactive elements enable users to explore data in ways that are most relevant to their specific needs. Moreover, customizing your dashboard view through filters, sliders, dropdown menus, and buttons lets you analyze the data from various perspectives, which maximizes the dashboard’s utility.

Benefits of using a dashboard for your business

Dashboards serve different purposes for different roles. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all dashboard. Well-designed dashboards answer business questions and provide meaningful insights before your team even has to ask for them.

Benefits of using a dashboard for your business:

  • Monitor multiple metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) at once
  • Easy to read
  • Identify trends
  • Save time by reducing or eliminating manual reporting tasks
  • Consistent and timely cross-functional communication
  • Tailor data analysis to your business needs
  • Make proactive, data-driven forecasts

Let’s look at each benefit in a little more detail.

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Monitor multiple metrics and KPIs at once

When a change happens within a department, whether it’s good or bad, it can have a ripple effect on your business. And putting your valuable data on a dashboard makes everything a lot easier.

Use a KPI dashboard to your advantage to dig deeper and draw a correlation between your metrics and KPIs to understand what’s working — and what’s not. Monitor your metrics and KPIs on a central dashboard, and make adjustments to your business practices in real time.

Hear how some of Canada's fastest-growing startups are using analytical dashboards to grow and scale their businesses on the Metric Stack podcast.

Glean data driven insight at a glance

You don’t have to be a big data analyst to use and understand a data analytics dashboard. Operational dashboards should be easy to read. When you apply the principles and best practices of dashboard design, you can call out important data points that anyone can observe and understand at a glance. Your dashboard should be designed so that even if you don’t work in marketing or finance, you can still understand the data analysis being presented.

Save time by reducing or eliminating manual reporting tasks

It’s no secret - data dashboards organize and save time. You no longer have to go to multiple services or spreadsheets to retrieve your data and put it into a report. Dashboards do all the heavy lifting for you!

Invest the time up-front to set up and design a dashboard that will pay back that time investment 10x over. Automatically generate reports with your data anytime, anywhere.

Consistent and timely cross-functional communication

Strategic dashboards allow everyone in the business to make and validate business decisions and create greater synergy across the organization.

With the data readily available on an executive dashboard, executives and leaders no longer have to request information from a data analyst. Analysts can work in the background while users can access the information they need at any time. It’s a win-win!

Tailor data analysis to your business needs

Data dashboards allow you to customize the data you track and how it's presented. This means you can focus on the metrics that matter most to your organization.

For example, since these tools can collect data from any database or system, you can gather only the information that’s relevant to your business. The ability to choose the data visualization type also means you can read and interpret the data in a way that makes the most sense for everyone in the organization.

Make proactive, data-driven forecasts

More than understanding your organization’s current performance, dashboards also help you leverage data for smart predictions. By analyzing data trends, dashboards can help you identify potential opportunities for growth as well as risks that may need mitigation. 

This way, you can proactively steer your business toward your end goals, whether it’s for sales targets, marketing objectives, or operational KPIs for the next six months or the next 10 years.

Examples of data dashboard uses

Data dashboards are useful across all industries for getting a real-time snapshot of an organization’s performance and trends. Here are compelling examples of how you can use data dashboards in five major industries, each tailored to meet specific organizational needs and objectives.


Data dashboards are helpful for those in the healthcare sector to track both operational metrics and outcome-based KPIs. Metrics like patient wait times and staff-to-patient ratios provide immediate insights into operational efficiency.

Meanwhile, KPIs such as patient satisfaction indexes and healthcare-associated infection rates directly reflect the quality of care and patient safety standards. As a result, medical institutions can drive continuous improvement in healthcare services.


Retail data dashboards guide the path to customer satisfaction and business success through a mix of metrics and KPIs. Metrics such as shelf stock accuracy and online engagement rates offer a glimpse into day-to-day operations.

On the other hand, KPIs like Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) and Year-over-Year (YoY) sales growth determine areas of strategic importance. Both metrics and KPIs facilitate targeted interventions to boost customer loyalty and sales performance.


Manufacturing dashboards come equipped with specific metrics and KPIs that enable companies to fine-tune their production processes and maintain high-quality standards.

Metrics such as downtime rate and capacity utilization offer insights into production efficiency. Additionally, KPIs like First Pass Yield (FPY) and on-time delivery rate work toward the company’s strategic goals of quality excellence and customer satisfaction.

Technology and IT

Data dashboards in the technology and IT industries track innovation, system performance, and customer service excellence. Metrics like system uptime and bug resolution time provide operational insights.

Moreover, KPIs such as churn rate and Service Level Agreement (SLA) compliance rate highlight the company's ability to retain customers and meet performance standards. All of these quantitative data are critical for long-term success.

Finance and banking

Finance dashboards display metrics such as operational efficiency ratios, which give an overview of operational performance. Meanwhile, KPIs like Return on Assets (ROA) and Non-Performing Assets (NPA) ratio directly impact strategic decision-making related to financial stability and risk management.

Dashboards vs. Reports: Similarities and differences

On the surface, dashboards and reports may seem similar. However, the difference lies in the shift in perspective from periodic reporting (like quarterly or yearly) to continued monitoring (like daily or weekly). 

What makes dashboards and reports so valuable is how you and your team use them to your advantage. Understanding their similarities and differences can help you make the most of these tools.

What do data dashboards and reports have in common?

Both dashboards and reports provide access to historical data so organizations can review past performance. They also collect data from multiple sources and combine them into a comprehensive view of different aspects of the business  Here’s a closer look at how these tools are similar.

Accesses  historical data

Data dashboards and reports serve as gateways to historical data. They allow organizations to review past performance, which is useful for identifying trends and patterns that inform strategic decisions. By examining historical data, you can discern what strategies succeeded or failed, providing a foundation for future planning and adjustments.

Integrates various metrics

Data dashboards and reports collect various metrics and KPIs to present a holistic view of an organization's health. This integration makes data analysis more comprehensive and accurate. Whether tracking sales performance, customer satisfaction, or operational efficiency, these tools compile crucial data points into one coherent picture.

Tailors data visualization

Customization is a key feature of both dashboards and reports. They make sure that the data presented is directly relevant and useful to your team. 

You can tweak these tools to display specific metrics that align with your business objectives for more focused and effective data analysis. By filtering out the noise, you can concentrate on the data that truly matters to your organization

Simplifies complex information

Both dashboards and reports use various types of visualizations—such as charts, graphs, and tables—to enhance data readability and comparability. These visual tools allow users to quickly grasp significant data points and trends, facilitating quicker and more confident decision-making.

Makes data more accessible

One of the most significant advantages of data dashboards and reports is their user-friendly design. By making data access simpler and easier, you empower your teams to leverage insights for their specific needs, which fosters a data-driven culture within the company.

What are the differences between data dashboards and reports?

While dashboards and reports serve as essential tools for data analysis, their differences in operation, user interaction, and application show their unique applications to data-driven decision-making.

Instant vs. interval analysis

Data dashboards provide real-time insights as they flow from various sources. Live data allows you to monitor operations and performance continuously. You even get as much as up-to-the-minute information, which is crucial for seizing opportunities or addressing issues swiftly. 

The dynamic nature of data dashboards supports quick decision-making processes. As such, they’re indispensable for businesses that operate in fast-paced environments.

On the other hand, reports typically offer a snapshot of data, which are usually generated daily, weekly, or monthly. They’re valuable for delivering in-depth analysis of specific business aspects, such as sales performance, marketing campaigns, or financial metrics over a defined period. Since reports provide a detailed examination, they’re best for strategic reviews and long-term planning.

Interactive vs. static data

Dashboards are interactive and allow users to drill down into the data, apply filters, and explore different scenarios. With this capability, you can tailor the display of information to your specific query or interests. They’re dynamic analytical tools that provide a hands-on approach and foster deeper understanding and engagement with data. 

Conversely, reports offer a more fixed view that conveys information on predetermined topics or goals. While they can be customized to a certain extent, their static nature means they don't offer the same level of interaction or immediate adaptability as dashboards. Nonetheless, they’re valuable for presenting comprehensive data analyses and supporting detailed discussions.

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Monitoring vs. detailed analysis

Data dashboards are designed for ongoing monitoring, providing a continuous, at-a-glance view of key metrics and KPIs. They inform stakeholders about the current state of affairs by helping them track progress toward goals and identify trends. Dashboards emphasize immediacy and clarity, which means that essential data points are readily accessible for timely action.

Reports, however, are meant for deep dives into specific areas of interest, which leads to detailed accounts and analyses. As mentioned, they’re typically generated with a particular purpose in mind, such as evaluating the success of recent initiatives or analyzing quarterly financial results. This level of structure makes them a cornerstone for detailed strategic analysis and documentation.

Which metrics and KPIs should I put on a dashboard?

Choosing the business metrics and KPIs to track is an important part of the dashboard design process. That’s why we built KPI dashboards as a direct response to the needs of your team or business. Our business dashboards are versatile, too, which makes them useful for any industry or department.

It can be overwhelming to monitor all of the metrics and KPIs related to your business. However, you may also miss out on important insights if you don't monitor the right ones. Here are three main steps you can take to find the right balance:

Know your end goal

Start by pinpointing what your organization aims to achieve. Whether it's increasing sales, improving customer satisfaction, or optimizing operations, your goals will guide your choice of metrics and KPIs.

Each metric or KPI you select should directly relate to your business objectives. If a metric doesn’t contribute to your goals, it might not be worth tracking. Moreover, not all metrics are equally important. Prioritize those that have the most significant impact on your business objectives.

Analyze data sources and quality

Make sure your data sources are reliable and updated, from internal systems like CRM or ERP and external sources like market research. Your dashboard should be able to integrate data from various sources seamlessly for a comprehensive view of your business.

Consider the end users

Different departments will require different metrics. Knowing this, design your dashboard to provide relevant information that will help each team excel in their work responsibilities.

For example, while knowing the conversion rate would be useful for all organizations, the marketing team may want to prioritize lead generation and customer acquisition metrics. Meanwhile, the operations team would want to track metrics related to process efficiency and cost reduction for better operations and cost optimization.

Customizing your data dashboard

Once you have chosen the metrics and KPIs, make sure to present them in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand format. Choose the right data visualization type, whether tables, charts, or graphs. This way, your teams can spot trends and patterns quickly.

Optimize dashboard layout and design

Keep your dashboard’s design simple and uncluttered. Make sure to arrange the elements logically so that it’s easy for users to find what they need. For instance, organizing related metrics and KPIs together can help compare and contrast data effectively.

Learn more about developing an effective dashboard design in our Starter Guide.

Incorporate interactive elements

Make the dashboard more flexible and user-friendly by adding filters and dropdown menus. Allowing users to customize the data they see empowers them to analyze and explore data even more.

Additionally, implement drill-down capabilities to enable users to delve deeper into the data for more detailed analysis. Check the responsiveness and accessibility of the dashboard across different devices as well.

Consider advanced visualization techniques

As mentioned, advanced visualization techniques like heat maps, radar charts, or tree maps can provide more accurate representations of data sets. These can help different departments gain deeper insights into complex data patterns.

Leverage conditional formatting

Use conditional formatting to automatically highlight data points that meet certain criteria, like targets met or anomalies. You can also set up visual alerts for critical metrics that require immediate attention so that they get addressed right away.

Create custom metrics or KPIs

The insights you get from your dashboard can spark inspiration for exploring potential opportunities that you might not have considered before. You can also identify correlations or trends that may not be evident when looking at individual metrics or KPIs alone.

As such, you can develop custom metrics or KPIs by combining different types of data. This way, you can get even more useful information and drive strategic decision-making.

Things to avoid when creating an effective data dashboard

Creating an effective data dashboard is crucial to its effectiveness. Otherwise, the information display can lead to confusion rather than clarity, rendering it useless. Here's what to watch out for to ensure your dashboard is as effective as possible.

Overloading dashboards with data

While it might be tempting to include every possible data point on your dashboard, this is actually counterproductive. Users may find it challenging to sift through the clutter to find the insights they need. 

Instead, focus on selecting a concise set of data points that directly relate to your organization's goals. This way, you make sure your dashboard remains clear, focused, and actionable.

Neglecting user needs

Failing to consider who will be using the dashboard and what information they need can result in a tool that is not fit for purpose. Tailor your display to suit the specific needs of different teams or departments within your organization. This customization can involve choosing relevant metrics and using suitable visualizations. 

Ignoring data quality

The insights from your data dashboard are only as good as the data sources it relies on. Inaccurate, outdated, or inconsistent data can lead to misguided decisions. Keep your data integration processes robust by pulling from reliable sources and making sure that the data is regularly updated. Attention to data quality helps maintain the integrity and usefulness of your dashboard.

Paying little attention to interactivity

Modern data dashboards offer far more than static displays of information. They allow users to interact with the data by drilling down into specifics, applying filters, and exploring different scenarios. 

Forgetting to leverage this capability is a missed opportunity to engage users fully. Moreover, it can make the exploration of data a tedious process rather than an insightful experience.

Disregarding design principles

Your data dashboard’s design impacts how easily users can interpret the data presented. Just like overloading it with data, ignoring basic design principles such as clear visual hierarchies, logical layout, and the effective use of color can make your dashboard difficult to navigate and understand. Keep your design clean, intuitive, and aligned with the principles of good visual communication.

Overlooking mobile users

While you may be more comfortable viewing your data dashboards on your computer or projected on large monitors, some stakeholders may access them through smartphones and tablets. Neglecting mobile users can limit the accessibility and utility of your dashboard, especially for those who need to access data on the go.

Sticking with static displays

Relying solely on static, historical data means your dashboard may not reflect the current state of your company. Incorporating real-time data makes sure your dashboard remains relevant and provides timely insights that can inform immediate decision-making.

Common challenges in dashboard design and implementation

Creating an effective data dashboard can be a game-changer for your business. However, this tool isn’t something you can just “plug and play.” These are the common challenges you may encounter when designing and implementing dashboards:

Using diverse data sources

Although dashboards are adept at consolidating data from multiple sources, it’s still a complex process. Making sure these sources sync and update in the dashboard can be a struggle, as well as maintaining consistency and accuracy.

To avoid this, you should develop a robust data integration process. This means establishing clear data pipelines and setting automatic updates from each source.

Balancing between detail and clarity

Dashboards crammed with too much data can overwhelm users, which makes it hard to find important information. On the flip side, not having enough data can be equally unhelpful.

Knowing this, you should focus on selecting the most relevant and actionable data to include in the dashboard. Additionally, using the right data visualizations, such as charts and graphs, can help to present data in a clear and concise manner. As a result, you can effectively communicate insights and findings to users.

Designing for different users

It can be tricky to design a single data dashboard that caters to the needs of different users in your organization. Executives, analysts, and operational teams all have different requirements when it comes to data visualization and analysis.

While you can easily create different views for each user group, this can make the dashboard design process more complex. PowerMetrics addresses this challenge through its flexible and customizable dashboard, which allows users to create personalized views based on their specific needs.

Promoting user engagement and adoption

If a dashboard is not user-friendly, people won't use it. That’s why you should be mindful of designing an intuitive interface. Providing the right training and support can educate users on the importance of data in any role and help them maximize dashboards for their tasks.

Keeping up with evolving business needs

Business needs change over time, and dashboards need to adapt accordingly. Although some dashboards can automatically collect and display real-time data, it might no longer be showing the right metrics and KPIs for your current goals.

Conducting regular audits and listening to user feedback can help identify areas for improvement. This way, you can guarantee that the dashboard remains an accurate tool for guiding your business toward its objectives.

What’s next for your dashboards?

As we look ahead, businesses must gear up and prepare to handle larger volumes of complex data. Tracking the right metrics and KPIs will remain integral to business strategy and decision-making. 

Stay one step ahead with a flexible and customizable dashboard tool like PowerMetrics. Our lightweight BI tool will help you level up your analytics and make the most of your data assets. Use our Starter Guides to dashboards and dashboard design to help you get started.

Need inspiration for the key metrics to put on your dashboard? Visit MetricHQ, our online dictionary of dashboard examples, metrics, and KPIs. On MetricHQ, you can search for a specific metric, new metrics by category or service, or add Instant Metrics.


What is a good data dashboard?

A good data dashboard effectively displays critical metrics and KPIs into a cohesive, visually engaging platform, offering real-time insights at a glance. It should be intuitive for users and provide them with immediate access to the data they need. Key characteristics include:

  • Relevance: The dashboard should display data that aligns with the strategic goals and objectives of the organization.
  • Customization: It offers customization options to cater to the specific requirements of different users or teams within the organization.
  • Interactivity: A high-quality dashboard allows users to drill down into specific data points, apply filters, and analyze trends over time.
  • Integration: It seamlessly integrates with various data sources for a unified view of information from multiple platforms.

How do you use a dashboard effectively?

To use a data dashboard effectively, start by identifying your main objectives for the dashboard. Then, focus on the most important metrics that drive decision-making within your organization. 

Avoid clutter by limiting the number of visualizations to only those that provide actionable insights. Schedule routine check-ins to stay updated on trends, progress, and potential areas for improvement.

What is the purpose of using a dashboard for data visualization?

The primary purpose of using a data dashboard for visualization is to transform complex data sets into accessible, understandable, and actionable insights. Dashboards serve several key functions:

  • Simplification: They make it easier for users to grasp key trends and patterns without delving into raw data.
  • Real-time Monitoring: Dashboards allow organizations to react promptly to changes in data, identify opportunities, and mitigate risks as they arise.
  • Decision Support: By presenting data in an intuitive format, dashboards make sure decisions are grounded in factual, up-to-date information.
  • Performance Tracking: They enable organizations to get a clear view of where they stand and where improvements are needed.

A data dashboard is an indispensable tool for any business since it enhances your organization’s ability to navigate through the complexities and competition of the modern business landscape.

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