Written by

Bernard Marr

Bernard Marr is a world-renowned futurist, influencer and thought leader in the fields of business and technology, with a passion for using technology for the good of humanity. He is a best-selling author of 20 books, writes a regular column for Forbes and advises and coaches many of the world’s best-known organisations. He has over 2 million social media followers, 1 million newsletter subscribers and was ranked by LinkedIn as one of the top 5 business influencers in the world and the No 1 influencer in the UK.

Bernard’s latest book is ‘Business Trends in Practice: The 25+ Trends That Are Redefining Organisations’

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The Important Difference Between Self-Service Analytics and KPI Dashboards

2 July 2021

As I help companies establish performance management systems and find the right data to inform decision-making, I commonly see in practice there’s a bit of confusion about the difference between self-service analytics and a curated key performance indicator (KPI) dashboard.

 | Bernard Marr

In the past, companies had an analytics team that would look at high-level KPIs and who would spend a lot of time collecting and analyzing data as well as producing reports. However, as data grew, these reports became longer and longer. The result? Bottlenecks. The analytics team didn’t have the time to analyze all the data properly. As the analytics teams became overwhelmed a common response was to just dump data on decision-makers and then let them fend for themselves.

So, self-service analytics became one solution to give business owners access to data and the tools they needed to analyze the data themselves and answer their own business questions.

Self-Service Analytics

Initially, self-service analytics was thought to be a panacea to address the bottlenecks organizations were experiencing as they waited for analytics teams to analyze and report on the data. If more individuals had access to the data, they could get what they needed from it, right?

Data democratization can certainly be a game-changer and was made possible due to new technology and tools. However, it still needs to be implemented properly with the right training and support to allow business users to easily extract meaning from the data. 

I see self-service analytics a bit like a buffet dining experience. We offer people all kinds of choices in their food (and data) and allow them to put together their own pairings. The result might be quite tasty or in the case of the data, they can stumble on what they need to glean business insights.

The challenge? Business users often don’t know how to answer their questions, what data to use or how to analyze it.

That’s why for companies who use or want to use self-service analytics I suggest they curate the user experience a bit to lead to success.

To continue with our buffet concept, think of this self-service analytics curation like an omelet station at a breakfast buffet. First, since it’s a breakfast buffet, the restaurant curated the ingredients to be typical breakfast foods. Then, they offer diners an omelet station. This gives diners the framework for success, but they still have the ability to select if they want their omelet to have onions, tomatoes, cheese, etc. and their choices can be different from other diners’ experiences to suit their tastes.

With a bit of curation for self-service analytics, analytics teams still do a bit of hand-holding to help business users get to the data (the ingredients) they need to find the answers they are looking for.

It’s important to give business users the ability to interact with the analytics team so that the analytics team creates a framework that helps them put together what they need. Analytics teams can find out what the true information and data needs are and then determine how to curate the data. Ultimately the goal is to determine how to make this experience work for everyone. 

KPI Dashboards

Even if organizations have self-service analytics, I still believe it’s important to curate KPI dashboards. KPI dashboards look at high-level strategic goals of the organization and communicate to decision-makers and help them understand how the organization is doing against these goals and how well the business is performing.

I like to compare a curated KPI dashboard to a fine dining experience at a three-star Michelin restaurant.

Before your plate is presented to you at your table, a lot of thought and consideration went into how it was orchestrated from what sides to pair with the entrée, to the plate design, garnishes and more. Nothing is left to chance.

Organizations must also leave nothing to chance when they are curating KPI dashboards. If they fail to communicate to the executives the key message the data reveals, they aren’t doing the job they need to adequately.

When it comes to curated KPI dashboards, I often paint another analogy – to a journalist.

Just as a journalist must carefully consider an article’s headline, analytics teams need to turn the data into a headline that will allow the executive who is consuming the dashboard to easily understand the message.

Next, what type of visualization will bring the message to life? In a newspaper, this is typically a picture. In a KPI dashboard, it’s how to visualize the data using bar graphs, charts or other techniques to support the message.

And, yes, even a KPI dashboard needs words in the form of a short narrative to capture the essence of the message you want to communicate.

Today, self-service analytics and a curated KPI dashboard are both necessary to support the strategic goals of an organization.

For more, you can check out my dashboard and reporting template.

Where to go from here

If you would like to know more about measuring HR effectiveness, check out my articles on:

Or browse the KPI Library to find the metrics that matter most to you.

Data Strategy Book | Bernard Marr

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