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The Complete Guide to Business Intelligence Dashboards: How-Tos & Top 5 Best Tools

Let's delve into the ins and outs of the five best business intelligence dashboards making headway in the data visualization space.

The Complete Guide to Business Intelligence Dashboards: How-Tos & Top 5 Best Tools

Let's delve into the ins and outs of the five best business intelligence dashboards making headway in the data visualization space.

Memes and TikTok clips have taken over the internet by storm. Meanwhile, text-based content like blog posts seldom go viral, no matter how compelling or informative.

That alone says a lot about how visually oriented humans are. There’s a whole science behind our inherent obsession with visual cues. But that’s a conversation for another time.

For now, let’s focus on data and dive into different tools making headway in the visualization space. 

In this article, we unpack the benefits of having a business intelligence (BI) dashboard in monitoring digital campaign performance, how you can create one, best practices, and essential BI dashboard softwares you can use today to discover data-driven insights.

What’s a business intelligence (BI) dashboard?

The main overview of Adriel’s marketing BI dashboard displaying multiple KPIs – Adriel
Main overview of Adriel’s full automated marketing dashboard and KPIs

A business intelligence (BI) dashboard is a digital reporting tool that displays, tracks, analyzes, and reports on KPIs and other essential marketing metrics. It visualizes high-level, data-driven insights in charts, graphs, and maps that enable users to monitor and examine their business performance at a glance.

BI dashboards provide users with the ‘big picture’ to critical questions in the decision-making process, indicating how a business is performing according to its defined targets and visualizing complex relationships on a single screen.

But, you might already be using spreadsheets to compile and track your marketing data. Do you still need a BI platform?

Why do you need a BI dashboard?

The obvious reason here is contextualization. There’s simply too much data for even the brightest analytics whiz to be able to connect the dots between disparate data points in their raw state.

Just pull up Excel and quickly skim through a spreadsheet. Do they scream actionable insights? If that happens so, hats off to you and your statistical prowess. But our guess is that your spreadsheet won’t mean much more than a random concoction of metrics nine times out of ten.

Once they are turned into bar charts and other types of data-driven visual elements, though? It’s a whole other story. That’s the power of visualization. Whether it’s your team, board members, or external stakeholders, presenting the data through intelligible graphics primes even the most boring of datasets to be readily processed and utilized regardless of who’s on the receiving end. 

Needless to say, once your dashboard puts actionable insights on full display, it makes it that much easier for decision-makers to drill down key performance metrics and reach data-driven decisions.

The scary thing is that there’s much more to a BI dashboard than just visualization. First off, equally as valuable is automation. It takes out manual workflows that would otherwise eat up a great deal of time and prevent your team of marketers and analysts from working on needle-moving tasks.

As a cherry on top, self-service BI dashboard software like Adriel offers a white-labeled reporting feature that allows both business users and end-users to put together reports packed with real-time insights and intuitive data displays.

Related: Complete Guide to Digital Marketing Reporting Dashboard: Software, KPIs, Reviews

How can you create a BI dashboard?

With BI dashboards, you can tell meaningful data stories. Creating one using a cloud or on-premise digital marketing reporting dashboard will make life easier, empowering you and your marketing teams to make informed data-led decisions.

This is why the best BI tools are highly customizable, designed for the right target audience, and contain only necessary data visualization. 

You can create your own BI dashboard using this step-by-step process:

1. Set up your workspace with data connections

First things first. You’ll need to connect to your marketing campaigns on analytical and paid media channels like Facebook, Google, and Instagram in one place. On Adriel, you can do so by just choosing from a drop-down menu, and voila, you’ll have all your data in place. No code, no dev, just plug and play.

If you don’t have the requirements to connect an ad account, you can do so by sharing a link with someone who does. Using this link will display your ad account ID on the Connections page.

The main Connections page of Adriel’s marketing BI dashboard – Adriel
Connecting your data sources to Adriel’s marketing dashboard  

2. Select visualization for your data:

Once the data sources are connected, you can use widgets to customize which KPIs you want to visualize. Create tables to compare performance across different time periods and visualize insights from data in multiple graph and chart types.

Colored graphs and charts displayed on Adriel’s marketing BI dashboard – Adriel
Visualization tools and metrics on Adriel’s marketing dashboard

3. Build pivot tables for A/B testing

A/B testing on a BI dashboard? Yes, it’s possible–if you have an automation platform that shows you granular performance data, right down to the ad creative level. Use the ad creative insights on Adriel to conduct A/B testings and  determine which variations of certain ad creatives lead to better conversions across separate marketing channels.

Pivot table function for A/B testing through Adriel’s marketing dashboard – Adriel
Pivot tables used for A/B testing on Adriel’s marketing dashboard

4. Set up real-time alarms

Setting up alarms will save a lot of time and automatically track data from all channels. On Adriel, there are alarms for anything you can think of, including performance falling under KPI goals and overspending. Alarms can be triggered in real-time, allowing you to gain critical insight into ROAS with real-time transparent data from multiple channels, and maximize returns.

Selecting parameters for real-time alarm function on Adriel’s dashboard – Adriel 
Real-time alarm settings across marketing channels and campaigns on Adriel’s dashboard

5. Take action

An editable BI dashboard lets you switch ad campaigns, ad sets, individual ads, and Google keywords on and off directly with one click. On Adriel, you can also reallocate your campaign budget across different platforms or change campaign schedules, in one place.

Selecting settings for marketing channels and campaigns on Adriel’s dashboard – Adriel
Customizable settings for channels and ad campaigns on Adriel’s editable dashboard

Related: Make Decisions Faster with Executive Dashboards: Strategies, Examples & How-Tos

BI dashboard best practices

A good BI dashboard should be easy-to-follow and provide data-driven answers to critical business questions. 

You can ensure your dashboard design represents your data in a simple and effective way by taking note of these best practices:

1. Use appropriate visualization

Keep in mind what you aim to communicate with your insights, and assess which forms of visualization work best in context. For example, colors can make the difference between good and bad dashboard design, and are one of the first things people notice. Using too many colors in a dashboard can be distracting, so aim for fewer than six colors per visual.

2. Target your audience

The best BI dashboards always begin with their intended audience in mind. Users want to see dashboards that summarize and consolidate KPIs over time so they can make informed data-driven business decisions. As such, separate dashboards should be tailored to specific audiences.

3. Accentuate important information first

Just like a journalist puts the most important information at the start of an article, your BI dashboard should begin by highlighting your most significant data insights first. This saves the user time and cuts through the junk by giving main takeaways at the start. The most important information is followed by secondary, granular details that dig deeper into your data.

With these in mind, let’s dig deeper and explore five of the most widely-used BI dashboards in the market today.

Related: 12 KPIs Your Marketing Attribution Dashboard Must Track for Multi-Channel Success

Top Five BI dashboards in the Market

Don’t get us wrong. Bringing in a BI dashboard doesn’t mean that your marketing efforts will magically improve overnight. Different factors – dashboard designs, overall interactivity of the dashboards, diversity of in-app widgets, etc. – are in play to determine the results your dashboard comes to yield.

But barring externalities and assuming that you have a firm grip on the tool, these five dashboards grease up your data analysis and decision-making wheel by unlocking key business insights.

Adriel

 Adriel’s library offers a comprehensive selection spanning over 600 data connectors, including some of the most commonly used CRM, marketing, and sales solutions like HubSpot and Salesforce. 

Further, the platform offers real-time data ingestion. As datasets across APIs are imported and refreshed automatically, users don’t have to spend a second on manual maintenance. 

Last but not least, onboarding is a breeze, and deploying, customizing, and sharing dashboards can be done without bringing in outside resources. 

Adriel also comes at a fraction of the cost compared to other dashboards out there (*refer to the pricing chart here for details) while offering the quality and reliability you’d expect from established monoliths. 

That’s not to say Adriel is pitch-perfect in every aspect. For example, while the current suite supports a multitude of options spanning from basic charts and maps to scatter plots and word clouds, it still needs a bit more work to catch up to the overwhelming array of graphic tools like Tableau and Power BI offer. 

Tableau

As one of the most talked about business analytics tools, Tableau has quite the hype to live up to. But whether it does is a different story.

Don’t get us wrong. From basic graphs and density maps to Gantt charts and analytical dashboards specifically designed for expense audits, the range of graphics and templates available on Tableau is next level. No other vendor on the market comes close when it comes to the sheer variety of visual elements. 

The challenge, however, is that it takes a certain degree of time commitment and experience with tech platforms to launch and personalize the dashboards. 

For starters, their preprocessing functionality is practically non-existent. It’s on you to get the data cleansed and restructured, which by no means is a light lift.   

Once all that’s taken care of comes the hassle of manual reporting. Tableau doesn’t natively support real-time updates or automated reporting, so you’ll have to update the data from the backend each time a report is sent out.

Perhaps you could opt for a pipeline as a quick fix. But whether it’d pay off in the long haul remains questionable, given all the manhours and resources that go into implementing and managing an additional software. 

Notwithstanding certain setbacks, if what you’re looking for is unparalleled visualization capabilities, Tableau will be worth every penny.

Just make sure you’re not working with a tight budget. At $70 a month per user - plus alpha for deployment and maintenance fees - Tableau doesn’t come cheap for businesses looking to have multiple administrators manage the tool.

Domo

Domo is giving Tableau a serious run for its money.

Not so much in that the library of graphics available on Domo squares up to that of Tableau. What it lacks in visual variety, however, Domo makes it up with an expansive suite of native connectors and top-notch data pipeline capability.

To elaborate, Domo lets users cleanse and combine data from over a thousand sources without performing SQL queries. This alone dramatically reduces the time it takes to deploy the tool across the organization. And since Domo is largely cloud-based, users don’t have to worry about setting up a dedicated digital infrastructure. 

Yet, as nifty as it may be for enterprise-level deployment, the same can’t be said about its usability. In fact, Domo’s user interface is notorious for being counterintuitive. The learning curve for non-technical users to get up to speed tends to be steep, and extracting data to a flat file remains a complex and drawn-out process. 

Now that we’ve brushed over the pros and cons, let’s address the elephant in the room – how much does Domo cost?

Well, Domo recently transitioned from a fixed model to customized pricing. So, the final number is up in the air.  

Based on what we could gather, the quote you end up with would most likely fall within the ballpark of the investment you’d have to make for Tableau. And the best way to go about making your decision here is to take advantage of the free trial. Feel them out first to see which one better suits your organization’s needs and goals for the price.

Microsoft Power BI

Don’t have the budget or a robust enough engineering arm to invest in the tools above? Consider Power BI.

Backed by Power Query, one of the most complete data preparation technologies on the market, Power BI takes care of the heavy lifting involved in integration once the data has been loaded through an ETL tunnel. Plus, at $9.99 a month per user, it makes up for a much more affordable alternative.

But of course, Power BI comes with its own set of limitations.

A major drawback that often gets cited is limited storage capacity. Unless you pay twice for the premium plan, to which then the file limit goes up to 10 gigabytes, volume is capped at 1 GB – a tight ceiling for companies that deal with terabytes of data every day.

There’s also the issue of interoperability. Namely, Power BI doesn’t offer a native version for iOS, which leaves Mac users no choice but to set up a separate Windows operating system.

The headache doesn’t end there. Power BI operates on a generic interface that doesn’t allow for much customization. To personalize visuals and reports in a meaningful way, users are compelled to become proficient in various complementary tools. 

Looker

Maintaining multiple applications can feel like taking on extra work. If that doesn’t bode well, you might want to look into Looker.

After connecting databases through a pipeline, Looker comes pretty much hassle-free. Looker’s intuitive platform makes it straightforward for staff members outside the data analytics team to learn their way around the tool.

The shortfall here is that there tends to be more work upfront. This is because developers must work out a semantic model compatible with the tool’s unique scripting language. Given how it takes over a month on average to deploy a brand new machine learning model, it might be a while until you see Looker up and running.

Another downside is the basic suite of visuals. There are only about 20 different modules to choose from, which is far less than most other BI tools on the market.

In terms of pricing, Looker subscribes to a flexible model just like Domo. You’ll have to submit an inquiry to get an exact quote. The table below should give you a better idea of what the final number would look like.

Google Data Studio (GDS)

We’ve combed through four of the five most widely trusted data visualization tools in the market. What if we told you for this last one you wouldn’t have to spend a penny? 

Sounds too good to be true, right? 

Well, Google begs to differ.

Data Studio, a cloud-hosted BI solution founded by the tech giant, gives free access to all of its features to anyone with a Google account. As if that isn’t enough of a draw, Data Studio allows seamless integration with all the other applications included in the G-Suite. 

But then again, as with pretty much anything free, there’s a catch (or two). 

At this point, you might not even be surprised to hear this. Just like any other dashboard tool on this list, the scope of native connectors on GDS is quite limited. You’ll have to work with third-party solutions to integrate data sources outside the G-Suite.  

Worse yet, there are only so many charts and graphs you can include to showcase your key performance indicators (KPIs) in a single report. The highest you can go with the number of elements is 50; for pivot tables, you can’t have more than three on a single page.

Wrapping Up

The silver lining here is Adriel has been ramping up its visualization stack with new offerings these past few months. Soon, users will be able to set up complex visualizations that were found exclusively on well-established tools without performing SQL commands or manual configurations.     

At the end of the day, if there’s anything we learned from serving thousands of brands and agencies, it’s that seeing is believing. 

So, head over to our workspace to try Adriel on your own with a free 14-day trial. 

Sign up now.

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