Dashboards vs. Reports: What Should You Use and Why?

Struggling to decide whether to create a dashboard or put together a report? Not sure of the differences? Read this article to know which to use, when to use them, and why!

Dashboards vs. Reports: What Should You Use and Why?
Photo by Markus Spiske / Unsplash

It is a fact that modern businesses require data to grow and succeed. Businesses can make better decisions, act with more confidence, and waste less resources when they know a lot about their ecosystem, their stakeholders, and their customers, no matter what field or industry they work in. There are many ways to organise and present data, so the best reporting tool will be unique to each business. However, BI tools primarily deliver data to businesses through two channels: dashboards and reports.

What exactly differentiates the two, though? The unique benefits and drawbacks of each are often disregarded by organisations that treat them as interchangeable. By learning about their individual strengths, you can pick the one that works best for your business. These are some of the main distinctions between the two, and they should help you select the most appropriate tool to meet the needs of your business.

What are Reports?

In a report, information is presented in text and tables that typically do not alter. Simple charts and graphs may be used, but their main purpose is to draw attention to a certain set of numbers or facts. Reports' strengths lie in their ability to help make complete stories out of data and to make the best use of how the data is presented. They are usually given to a wide range of stakeholders. By improving how the data is shown, creators can turn raw data into interesting stories. Information that has already been collected, catalogued, and analysed is also included.  

They also serve as an important informational resource for users who don't have direct access to analytics dashboards. Unfortunately, they don't provide real-time updates, and their data typically only represents a subset of the full datasets that are available. In addition, developing one can be a laborious and time-consuming process. Reporting can be tedious for businesses with many divisions and varying information requirements.

What are Dashboards?

Dashboards are platforms for visual analytics that can show any set of metrics, data, or key performance indicators (KPIs). Tools of this type are typically real-time and dynamic, meaning that information is constantly being updated and visualisations can show minute-by-minute fluctuations. In addition, dashboards can be as specific or general as required, allowing businesses to build multiple dashboards for a more comprehensive data visualisation.

Due to the rise of self-service analytics, data that was once only available to upper management can now be accessed by any division in an organisation. The scope and focus of a dashboard can range from being extremely broad to being extremely narrow. The human resources department, for instance, may have several specialised dashboards for payroll, bonuses, and other functions; likewise, the marketing department may have dashboards for advertisements, website traffic, and average lead score.

So, which one do I require? Dashboards or Reports?

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Your data requirements will determine the best course of action here. Even though reports and dashboards are similar in some ways, they each have their own pros and cons. One primary way in which they differ is in the breadth of their applicability. It's possible to include as many metrics and data sets as needed on a dashboard, but they serve their purpose best when narrowly tailored to a specific function or area of an organisation. Tools that monitor help desk tickets, market share, investment portfolios, and other KPIs are just a few examples of dashboards.

Reports, on the other hand, can cover more ground. Reports, because they are not in real time and thus easier to curate, can provide a more accurate overview of an organisation. While a manager or CEO might not require access to detailed customer service dashboards, he would still benefit from having an overall picture of the team's performance.

The timeliness of the data is the second major distinction between the two. The scope of a report is usually much wider, and it often includes information from the past. Due to the periodic nature of their delivery, they provide only a snippet of information rather than an accurate portrayal of the current state of affairs within a given department or the entire organisation. In contrast, dashboards are designed specifically for the purpose of displaying and organising data in real time. Users can be notified when predefined values or changes are detected.

Dashboards, in contrast to reports, give users the freedom to dynamically alter and interact with data. Metrics and processes can be broken down into subsets and monitored more closely with the help of dashboards.

Ultimately, your choice of reporting method should be based on your current requirements. The real-time nature of dashboard updates and their dynamic, user-friendly qualities set them apart. Reports provide a more transparent overview of historical data. They're both helpful resources to have on hand when needed.

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