I had an interesting conversation with a company lawyer a little while ago. We were discussing dashboards and she said “It makes me laugh when people talk about dashboards, it is just a posh way of describing a report!”. It made me think as it seems to be a common misconception.
What is the difference between a dashboard and a report?
I hate using similies that involve cars – it seems that most consultants resort to them – but in this case it’s probably relevant. Modern cars, specifically their engine management systems, gather and process a spectacular amount of information about the state of the state of the engine, efficiency and dynamics. For instance it will measure the oxygen levels in the exhaust system thousands of times per second and make constant decisions about the right settings to balance fuel enconomy, emissions and performance. Some cars even have oxygen sensors in each cylinder. As a driver you are probably completely unaware that these even exist, let alone the second-by-second values they return. The one time you will become aware of their output is when a red or amber warning signal lights on your dashboard.
Ten oxygen sensors returning thousands of readings per second, complex optimisation algorithms – all distilled to two states “lamp on” or “lamp off”. This is the purpose of dashboard. To protect you from data overload and just tell you the things you really need to know.
Put simply “a dashboard summarises the most critical information in a very reduced and easy to understand way”.
A report will have more information, more depth and take much longer to fully understand. You glance at a dashboard but read a report.