Reports vs. Dashboards and Balanced Scorecards. Differences in theory and practice.

Introduction:
Decision Support Systems and BI Solutions are intended to provide integrated information to decision makers in order to identify and solve problems and make decisions. To present this information to end-users BI developers usually create Reports, Dashboards and Scorecards, but do the users (analysts, managers, CEOs) and developers really understand the differences between them?
To work around this issue I’ve decided to post something about it. First the concept for each element is presented followed by a brief of discussion and finally a summary with the findings.

Some concepts: first let’s read some definitions.

Report:

  • A formatted and organized presentation of data (Webopedia).
  • A report is a textual work (usually of writing, speech, television, or film) made with the specific intention of relaying information or recounting certain events in a widely presentable form (Wikipedia).
  • (1) An account given of a matter after investigation or consideration. (2) A piece of information about an event or situation (Oxford Dictionary).

Dashboard:

  • In management information systems, a dashboard is an executive information system user interface that (similar to an automobile’s dashboard) is designed to be easy to read (Wikipedia).
  • A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives which fits entirely on a single computer screen so it can be monitored at a glance (Stephen Few).

Balanced Scorecards:

  • The balanced scorecard is a strategic planning and management system that is used extensively in business and industry, government, and nonprofit organizations worldwide to align business activities to the vision and strategy of the organization, improve internal and external communications, and monitor organization performance against strategic goals (balancedscorecard.org).
  • The Balanced Scorecard is a strategic performance management tool – a semi-standard structured report, supported by proven design methods and automation tools, which can be used by managers to keep track of the execution of activities by the staff within their control and to monitor the consequences arising from these actions (Wikipedia).

According to the definitions above and my work experience, a Report seems to be a printable document (usually multiple pages), which contains detailed information whereas Dashboards are meant to present information in a quick manner. The users need time to digest all of the information inside a Report (it depends on the level of detail and the amount of data) while a typical Dashboard consist of a single page intended to give answers at first sight. A Report can include Dashboards to summarize data but Dashboards should not contain reports. A Dashboard should be dynamic and interactive; it looks like an application, while Reports could have filters and drill-down capabilities but are more static by nature and tend to look like a document.

And what happened with Balanced Scorecards? From the definitions we can think that a Scorecard is a synonymous for a Dashboard. The keywords are monitor and manage. Dashboards in an automobile could inform us about the fuel level and engine temperature but give little insight about and specific goal. I found other interesting analogy: in a newspaper a Dashboard could be the raw news, while Scorecards are editorial of sorts.

The Scorecards are “balanced” because they offer a more integrated view or organizational performance based not only in traditional financial metrics but also in strategic non-financial measures. Maybe, the main difference  is that Dashboards need not measure vs. goals while in a Scorecard measures are compared against goals.

Summary:

Reports, Dashboards and Scorecards were presented as fundamental pieces of the output of Decision Support Systems, followed by some definitions in order to compare them. Then, Reports are compared against Dashboards, discussing several differences in the practice. Finally, the Balanced Scorecards are compared with Dashboards giving some analogies to aim the understanding of the role of each one within a BI solution.

In practice the terms Scorecards, Dashboards and other terms like Business Cockpits or KPI Summary have in common that they are all visually-based presentations of business metrics used to inform management decisions while reports are more intended to present detailed data and require more in-depth attention.

About Paul Hernandez

I'm an Electronic Engineer and Computer Science professional, specialized in Data Analysis and Business Intelligence Solutions. Also a father, swimmer and music lover.
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One Response to Reports vs. Dashboards and Balanced Scorecards. Differences in theory and practice.

  1. Paul, what do you think about putting important KPIs directly on the strategy map of the Balanced Scorecard as I describe it here: http://www.bscdesigner.com/link-balanced-scorecard-to-dashboard.htm

    For sure, business people won’t stop using their dashboard toys, but in this way executive will be more focused on what meters.

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