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Choice is a fine thing until there is too much choice and you can’t decide whether there is a benefit in spending more or less money on something. With market research survey data, there are an increasing number of options available which allow you to share information with your clients or colleagues. So, first of all, let’s take a look at the options available and then consider which option may be best for a particular project.
Do you really want online reporting?
The first consideration is whether you really want online reporting. If you just want online reporting because it feels a more modern way to deliver information, that’s fine. However, Excel and PowerPoint offer good tools to produce reports with Excel having tools that make it possible to produce an interactive dashboard where users can select options, different data cuts etc. There are tools such as DataDynamic that can semi-automate this process so that you can produce multiple reports where necessary.
The online options
It’s not widely known but you can publish an Excel report or Excel dashboard online. There are various software tools that can assist, but you can do it yourself using OneDrive. You simply publish a report or interactive dashboard to OneDrive and allow others to use the uploaded Excel file. It’s a low cost solution and with several free dashboard templates that can be downloaded, it’s a quick and cheap entry point for sharing information with clients.
There are a small number of online products that allow you to create your own dashboards. We sell DRM (Dynamic Research Manager), which allows you to build a dashboard with as many pages as you wish that can be either static or allow criteria to be selected so that the dashboard automatically updates. We also sell Snap which allows you to provide information online easily. There are other products available in the market such as ETabs, MarketSight, Dapresy and others. All have their strengths and weaknesses – as well as, of course, varying price tags.
The next level up is to produce a customised dashboard. To do this you will either need a skilled web developer or to find a company like us that can provide these services.
Does a market research dashboard make it more complex?
Market research data is different from most other commercial data. Whereas most business data have thousands (or, maybe, millions) of records with a fairly small number of fairly simple fields, market research data tends to have a relatively small number of records for many projects and a vast number of fields, some of which maybe contain multiple responses. This leads on to the need for much greater depth to the analysis. In simple terms, most commercial data is summing up a set of values, such as total number of customers, total spend etc. whereas survey data are often analysed to a greater depth using cross tabulations and complex variable definitions.
What does mean? Well, Excel might be fine for simpler tasks, but Excel is not particular good at handling variables, cross tabulations – it is better at sums and charting. So, Excel may not be good enough. As for Survey Research DIY online dashboard software products, they should have all the tools you need for such tasks.
What are the BIG considerations?
There are six BIG considerations when deciding which route to take.
I never believe in over-complicating things. If Excel does the job, then use Excel. Excel can, however, start to become cumbersome or impractical if requirements are more complex. All DIY online software dashboards will have their limitations. Again, it’s a question whether those limitations stop you delivering what you want.
One of the biggest problems with dashboards is that if your needs go beyond the scope of the product you choose, you are likely to be back to the beginning with an alternative solution. At least with a custom dashboard, anything is possible.
There are two types of dashboard in terms of purpose – ones that provide information and nothing more and ones that are used as tools to dig further into data. If the purpose of your dashboard is simply to communicate a small number of key bits of information, it is likely that the display of that data can be fairly simple. The user is likely just to need to know that data and nothing more. However, if someone wants to explore data look at it in different ways, be able to share reports with colleagues, download key findings to PowerPoint or a PDF, you will need something that is more flexible. It’s important to find out what the users really want before thinking about what you are going to deliver. In my experience, most users think they want more information than they actually use.
Users break down into regular and infrequent users and skilled and unskilled users. If the user base is only a small number regular skilled users, the design of the dashboard can be more complex as they will soon become familiar with how to ‘drive’ the dashboard to give them what they want. Conversely, if the CEO wants to access the dashboard once every two months and is not a skilled computer user, it will need to be easy and obvious as to how he or she can extrapolate those key figures that are needed for a meeting. Where there a range of users, it can make sense to guide each user type to different parts of the dashboard via their login and limit the options available. Instructions and steps will need to be clear for infrequent users. A custom dashboard will tend to suit a wider audience whereas a narrow audience with limited requirements may find Excel or a DIY tool more than adequate. Some DIY dashboard system will allow for some of these tools as well.
Websites can look good or look poor. They can be easy to navigate or utterly confusing. The same applies to dashboards.
You will need to decide whether appearance is important. Design is a skilled task which many people (including me) cannot do. It’s fine to give someone a DIY dashboard development tool that has good design capabilities, but this does not ensure that a good looking dashboard will result if the user has poor design skills. Many dashboards needing fit in with the user’s corporate website so that it looks and feels familiar. This is particularly important where the dashboard is being shared with external partners.
As we all become more mobile, there is an increasing need to get information on the move? You may need to consider whether a dashboard will be usable on a tablet or smartphone if the target audience will be accessing information through such devices. Indeed, in some cases, data may only be accessed on a smartphone, so design considerations become more important.
Change can often be painful, but with a dashboard if there is a requirement beyond the scope of Excel or a DIY online dashboard system, you will be back to the beginning. In my opinion, dashboards should be updated regularly to keep them ‘fresh’ and interesting, particularly where there are a lot of users. Does the solution you are choosing limit future possibilities too much?
And, finally, we come to cost. Excel is, of course, a cheap solution, DIY online dashboard platforms vary in price depending on the power you want and custom dashboards are the most expensive. What you get for that money is limited flexibility in Excel, variable flexibility in a DIY online dashboard platform (i.e. dependent on its capabilities) and complete flexibility with a custom dashboard.
As with all software products, you have to consider the cost of learning to use a new DIY software tool. Generally, the greater the scope of the platform you use, the steeper the learning curve will be.
Of course, this article leaves a lot of ‘what ifs’, so please feel free to contact us if you have particular thoughts or questions about your particular online dashboard. Starting the right way is arguably the most important thing.