If it feels like every legal technology solution on the market today includes the lure of some kind of sexy new dashboard functionality, you’d probably be right. Interactive data dashboards that promise to solve a myriad of business problems by showing you the most up-to-date, essential information for your job, all packaged up in a colorful, engaging visual display are a hot commodity; and for good reason. An information management tool that tracks, analyzes, and displays essential business intelligence such as metrics, key data points, and key performance indicators (KPIs) can have a significant impact on operational success.
Dashboards can also serve as important tools for managing the large volume of data organizations have to deal with, which grows exponentially every year. Consider that over ten years ago, the Coordinator of Corporate Litigation for ExxonMobil reported that their employees generated 5.2 million emails every single day. That was before the proliferation of text messages, instant messages, social media posts, and even more email. Imagine what that number might be today and it’s no surprise the global BI and analytics market is expected to reach $18.3 billion in 2017.
In today’s competitive business environment, a comprehensive business intelligence (BI) solution, including robust data dashboards, should be an essential part of a legal department’s technology investment. A good dashboard can pull key statistics and information and display it in an easy-to-review manner to answer essential questions such as how much your organization spent on legal costs for a defined period, what you actually got for that spend, and what legal spend will look like for the next fiscal year. However, not all BI solutions, or the dashboards they promise, can deliver. Deciding on an appropriate BI solution for your organization can be a complex process.
Here are three essential elements to any dashboard solution that must be in place for it to deliver on the promise to increase operational effectiveness.
Good Data = Better Decisions
Having data in a clean visual, right at your fingertips is, of course, one of the key attractions for data dashboards. Fair warning, though—the information in your dashboards is only as good as the information that is input into the system. It’s the adage “garbage in, garbage out” in practice if your data is not completely and cleanly input in the first place. In addition to ensuring that your data is clean and correct, all of the data stored in the myriad systems within your organization must be integrated within a single BI system so your dashboards can draw on a complete set of data. If your dashboard is drawing on an incomplete set of data, or even worse the data is incorrect, then your dashboard is going to display bad data, which leads to uninformed—or just plain bad—decisions.
It’s also important not to get seduced into thinking that more is better. Just because a BI solution has the ability to store massive amounts of data doesn’t mean that it’s a better solution.
Efficient, effective use of dashboards means placing more value on the usefulness of the data, not the amount of data the system can contain. More doesn’t always mean better; sometimes it just means more.
A Good Dashboard is Easy on the Eyes
A pretty dashboard isn’t a minor thing. In fact, there is a good scientific reason for a visually appealing, easy-to-read display—the human brain processes images much faster than text, which makes legal metrics displayed in a well-designed, “pretty” dashboard easier to digest quickly and easily. When dashboards are poorly organized, contain more information than the user needs, or are too complex, users get frustrated and will either stop using the tool or spend their time inefficiently trying to collect the information they do need. However, when a dashboard offers usable information, specific to the user, in a simple and intuitive interface, well, you’ve got dashboard gold—a tool that actually encourages use and productivity.
In addition to being easy to use from a visual perspective, successful dashboards—ones that not only deliver good data but also encourage user adoption—are ones that are integrated with people’s daily workflow.
When dashboarding tools aren’t integrated into the software solutions where you spend most of your time, it can be a frustrating and time-consuming experience. Alternatively, when analytics are embedded in everyday processes and applications, it’s easier for people to access their information contextually; this is the top driver of successful user adoption. This makes a strong argument for integrated, end-to-end solutions that meet your organization’s unique needs, or at the very least an option to embed an analytics solution within your core technology applications.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Finally, a dashboard solution must be flexible enough that you can tailor it to the unique needs of your organization and its discrete audiences. A dashboard that offers a customizable user experience allows you to fine tune what data each user receives and enables them to adjust how it is presented, so it works best for their unique needs. Like the seduction of data storage, it’s important to not be swayed by a pretty UI. A good UI is essential, but while many solutions can deliver data up in a visually appealing dashboard, they do not always offer an effective way to quickly and accurately display that data in a usable form for each user.
One-size-fits-all dashboard designs often present a huge amount of information to everyone, requiring users—or IT—to sift through all the data for the information they really need.
This data sorting, or even custom coding, to create usable dashboards comes with hefty resource costs that can be avoided when the right solution is in place from the beginning.
A good dashboard solution includes a user-friendly look and feel, can be customized to unique user needs, and can integrate with your other workflow applications. The best dashboard solution, however—one that will help you reach optimum operational success—is one that fits your organization’s unique needs, with the flexibility to grow and change as the needs of your organization change.