Advanced Dashboarding Tips For Finance Professionals

insightsoftware -
September 25, 2021

insightsoftware is a global provider of reporting, analytics, and performance management solutions, empowering organizations to unlock business data and transform the way finance and data teams operate.

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Advanced Dashboarding Tips For Finance Professionals

Dashboards are one of the most powerful reporting tools finance professionals can use to track, understand, and improve business performance. To effectively drive decision-making with data insights, finance professionals need to able to communicate where, how, and why the business is currently performing—for example, consider Hall of Famer Yogi Berra’s immortal Yogi-ism, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Modern finance teams are now able to leverage Corporate Performance Management (CPM) tools to aggregate their disparate data, generate powerful analysis, and present their insights as elegant, customizable dashboards.

In a changeable business climate, it’s never been more important to understand performance. Dashboards are a crucial tool for finance professionals to visualize and drive key metrics, ensuring various business functions meet their goals and don’t end up “someplace else.”

How a Corporate Performance Management Solution Can Help

Businesses need robust, proven solutions to effectively turn high volumes of data into actionable insights. A CPM tool empowers finance teams to automate their reporting, budgeting, and planning processes, liberating them from “Excel Hell” and enabling them to focus on analysis. Presenting these findings in a consistent, interactive format is critical to making meaningful, data-driven change within an organization. CPM solutions supercharge dashboards by:

  • Easily integrating multiple reports into the same display and updating them in real time, ensuring your dashboards are comprehensive and reliable.
  • Going beyond high-level overviews of your data and enabling anyone in the organization to drill down into live reports, no matter where they’re working.
  • Customizing reports to specific business requirements and metrics.
  • Giving finance professionals the ability to deliver specific information to the right people, at the right time.

A CPM tool like insightsoftware’s Calumo generates powerful dashboards for its users, and the low barrier to entry encourages a high degree of self-service throughout the organization. Finance professionals can make dashboards that provide information at-a-glance, and the easy-to-use Calumo product empowers anyone in the business to drill down into the numbers with a high degree of granularity. Reports can be displayed on any device, and their interactivity allows users to slice and dice the data to better comprehend it.

Using Dashboards to Solve Problems

Generating powerful business intelligence dashboards means striking the proper balance between informing and overloading. Imagine if your car dashboard tried to tell you that the left wheel tread was in an 87% optimal condition or that it rained three weeks ago—outdated, unnecessary, or un-actionable information doesn’t serve the driver.

Finance professionals should be leveraging dashboards to deliver essential information, monitor important projects, and track key performance indicators. Extremely long, overly-thorough reports that take all day to reconcile and all week to explain are better left for Excel—dashboards are all about visualizing critical data, so your business knows how fast it’s going, how much fuel it has left, and how well the engine is performing. Having a small number of targeted, purposeful dashboards means finance professionals can effectively allocate their resources, rather than spend their time managing a wide array of reports.

A CPM solution like insightsoftware’s Calumo takes it one step further—by automating reporting and enabling a high degree of self-service, the tool allows both finance and non-finance staff to design, maintain, and optimize as many custom dashboards as necessary to track performance.

Creating Effective Dashboards

It’s important to ensure dashboards are functional and focused on key metrics while they’re being developed. Finance professionals must consider their organization’s key pain points and try to build dashboards that will help solve these problems.

For example, if a construction company is struggling to prioritize all of its new business opportunities, a dashboard that organizes tenders based on return on investment (ROI) will help drive their decision making. A university might want to visualize their student retention rates by degree or faculty, to know what their expected income is in a multi-year forecast.

Some questions to help guide dashboard development include:

  • Is it easy for managers to see how many hours consultants are logging?
  • Is sales data spread out across multiple spreadsheets?
  • Do business leaders have quick access to important financial data?
  • What tasks are finance spending too much time and resources on?
  • What kind of reports are ‘sticking points’ within the organization that create back and forth between finance and other parts of the business?
  • Can decision-makers intuitively understand the performance of the business?
  • Do various departments within the organization understand how they’re performing?

Dashboards can solve problems by leveraging both operational and financial data analysis. Remember that some important financial metrics are hard for non-financial audiences to grasp intuitively. Dashboards allow finance professionals to visually communicate their complex analysis quickly and comprehensibly, keeping the whole business well-informed of key performance indicators.

How to Build Great Dashboards

1.      Choose Your Data Sources

Fortunately for finance professionals, the first step towards building a powerful, insightful dashboard is right up their alley: formulas, analysis, spreadsheets, and so on. Your dashboard will have to pull data from somewhere, and it’s important that you’re connecting the right reports for the right people.

A CPM tool can automatically pull information from consolidated group financial data or budgeting and planning data, providing a complete overview of the most important information for decision-makers.

2.      Develop Your Dashboard Collaboratively

The purpose of a dashboard should be to aggregate complex data into accessible, digestible, actionable information for everyone in the organization. Incorporating feedback of end-users will ensure your dashboard helps do what you want it to do, and that it solves the right problems. Don’t be afraid to build something basic and share it with the team early—the more intuitive and insightful it is for end-users, the more likely they are to use it.

Collaboration enables discussions and helps resolve problems with searchable, shareable content. These conversations can trigger new ideas for solutions, and proactively get the important information shared throughout the business.

The Calumo solution supports finance professionals in this process. Every ad-hoc view, published report, template, and dashboard in Calumo has a unique URL, meaning you can easily share it with your audience quickly, and on any device. Users can move a dashboard back into Excel, modify it, and republish—a CPM solution makes it possible to build powerful dashboards collaboratively and on the fly.

Additionally, the high degree of self-service and low barrier to entry for the Calumo product means non-finance staff are empowered to make their own dashboards. The easy-to-use, interactive tools ensure the whole organization can help optimize data visualizations, and get the right information to the right people at the right time.

3.      Make Them Interactive

A good dashboard will give users the power to engage with the data. Finance professionals can set the dimensions—such as the year, period, entity, etc—and then empower users to slice and dice at will. Drill down functionality allows any member of your organization to independently investigate the numbers, play with the data, and easily get information without additional burden on finance.

Unlike static reports, which quickly become outdated, dynamic reports and dashboards present a wide range of information in one place. They regularly update as new information becomes available, and condense vast amounts of data into a digestible format. Users in the organization will have an entry point from which they can explore virtually any aspect of a performance metric—a high-powered tool like Calumo will help make this process as simple and intuitive as it can be.

4.      Iteratively Improve

Sometimes a consolidated dashboard or report won’t be the right fit. Maybe it’s not offering the right insights for this quarter or year because of changes in personnel, company focus, or metrics. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to recognize where a dashboard is falling short, and be willing to update, recreate, or redo.

A robust and adaptable CPM solution will keep the original reports, and allow you to return to them at any time. Finance professionals will be able to go back and make any necessary changes to keep their dashboard current, adding value to the business. Collaboration and iterative improvements are the key to optimizing your dashboard’s effectiveness.

That being said, don’t fix what isn’t broken! Some Calumo clients continue to use dashboards that were published ten years ago every day. If you’re effectively visualizing important performance metrics through an interactive dashboard in a CPM tool, then real-time updates ensure they show current data without changing the winning format.

5.      Communicate Key Information Visually

Finance professionals can leverage dashboards to tell stories. Engaging displays like charts, graphs, trend lines, or indicators will bring information to life, allowing users to make sense of data intuitively.

To understand the complexity of the big data picture, users need multiple points of information that combine to create an overarching narrative of performance. Storyboards position individual reports within a broader context, enhancing meaning and value to decision-makers. Organize your dashboards and reports so that each one builds upon the others, painting a vivid picture of the data you wish to communicate.

Once you’re clear on what metrics will be most impactful, ensure your dashboards present findings in a way that is compelling to managers. When visualizing your data:

  • Reduce noise and the number of colours.

Remember to empathize with your audience, and to have visuals that specifically cater to them. A CEO may want to see dashboards that demonstrate how different departments intersect. Finance-savvy executives would appreciate a deeper dive into the data. The sales team might need a different approach entirely, one that drills down to an individual transaction level and uses lots of bright colours.

Calumo is designed to provide consistency across a range of mediums. Create visuals that deliver a quick understanding, and visuals that help initiate action. Keep the purpose of your dashboard front of mind—you want to communicate key information that a user will quickly understand, and then be able to act on.

6.      Make Dashboards Proactive

Modern car dashboards have beeping reverse cameras, blind spot sensors, and a low-fuel warning light that (generally) gives you enough time to find some gas. An effective business intelligence dashboard will have similar proactive warnings for users ahead of time.

Use your dashboards to stay agile, instead of just using them to see last month’s performance data. By tracking information in real time and immediately calling attention to exceptions, dashboards powered by an all-in-one CPM solution like Calumo can help business leaders address problems as they arise.

7.      Integrate With Rolling Forecasts to Make Dashboards Predictive

Although a lot of the above tips have been about developing strong dashboards for past and present data visualization, with a CPM solution it’s possible to integrate forecasts into your performance metrics.

The most effective dashboard solutions incorporate rolling forecasts and predictive analytics. Expressing these reports visually ensures business leaders can quickly, intuitively comprehend key data, making it possible to see the road ahead with greater clarity. Data-driven decision making doesn’t require behemoth spreadsheets full of convoluted formula—financial professionals can leverage modern financial planning and analysis (FP&A) tools to make the process simple for managers.

8.      Get Creative

The purpose of an advanced dashboard is to leave black and white excel reports in the past where they belong, and to be able to tell an engaging, comprehensible story with your data. With a powerful CPM tool at their fingertips, FP&A professionals can consider new and interesting ways to communicate their reports.

Long-time Calumo client Mainbrace Constructions does a wide spectrum of construction projects across Australia—ranging from large warehouses that take a long time to complete to smaller retail buildings. Their Head of Systems and Innovations, Angus Greenwood, noticed the team was having trouble prioritising tender opportunities, and were losing revenue because of it. In this keynote presentation, he shows his creative dashboard solution: an arrivals and departures board, like you’d see at an airport. Updated in real time, this dashboard was put on display on TVs around the office, meaning the whole team could see what projects to prioritize.

Calumo’s easy-to-use dashboard functionality and high degree of self-service empower all members of your organisation to make innovative, compelling reports about data that matters to them. Leveraging a robust, interactive solution enables businesses to present their reports in a creative way.

Get Started With a Powerful Dashboard Now

In these uncertain times, it’s never been more important to understand business performance. Dashboards are the key to unlocking your organization’s potential, and to sharing critical information to the right people, at the right time, in the right way.

Leveraging a CPM solution empowers finance professionals to make meaningful, insightful dashboards for their organization. Modern FP&A must go beyond reconciliations and spreadsheets and find new ways to tell stories through data. Dashboards are an imperative for modern businesses. The best dashboards are made using a robust, reliable, and empowering CPM tool. See for yourself, request a demo, today.