Dashboards and reports are two common terms used interchangeably in discussion around business intelligence (BI) and data analytics platforms. Both are analysis tools used to present operational information graphically, provide visibility into organizational performance, and enable informed decision-making based on hard tracked metrics.
But what is the actual difference between BI dashboards vs a report?
Because both terms are used together so often, it’s important to be able to distinguish their purpose as two distinct tools, so you can ensure your end-users get the most out of their data. This blog breaks down what BI dashboards vs reports are in the context of analytics, what their core differences are, and what option is better for your reporting.
Table of Contents
The role of a dashboard vs report in business intelligence
Modern business intelligence solutions offer the ability to create both business intelligence dashboards and reports. When your users need to consume or share data, help them decide by sharing this summary.
The purpose of a BI dashboard
A dashboard is a real-time graphical overview of business-critical data on a single screen, such as key performance indicators (KPIs) or operational performance, making it suited for monitoring and tracking what is going on in the business at the moment of analysis.
BI dashboards are designed to aggregate, communicate and display the most important data in a particular area in a single view, so the intended audience can examine that slice of information at a glance. Dashboards offer a helpful summary of business metrics, changes, and trends overall, which can be used to highlight areas of improvement, pin-point interesting patterns, or discover unexpected outliers. Because it is real-time, data on dashboards are typically up-to-date and refreshed with live data constantly.
A single BI dashboard contains several elements: Metrics, tables and data visualizations, such as charts, graphs and maps. Depending on the exact BI solution used, these dashboards and their elements can be interacted with to lead the user toward more in-depth information and guide further action, such as a table of regional data supporting drill down or a graph linking to a more detailed report.
The purpose of a BI report
A report is a static snapshot of business performance at a particular time, within a certain segment or area of the business. It typically provides a collection of charts, graphs, tables and text to offer a more in-depth view of data (compared to dashboards) that is already cleaned and curated for accuracy and relevancy. Data in a report is also grouped, filtered and organized to highlight key metrics for the intended end-user, making it best suited for a more comprehensive analysis of specific data.
A report is a helpful source of detailed data, particularly for users who may not have access to analytics and dashboards, and it helps inform professionals with where to spend time and resources and how to drive actionable decision-making. However, because it is static, it is not updated in real-time, and it cannot be interacted with in the same way as dashboards.
Reports under the operational reporting model are slightly different; they are parameter-driven, tightly formatted and source data from transactional or machine-based sources, are shared in real-time and require an additional level of curation to maintain compliance and privacy requirements (such as healthcare or banking). They best suit use cases where requirements are understood in advance, but demand a significant amount of expertise, time and effort to produce compared to normal reporting and dashboards.
Report vs dashboard key differences
The main difference between dashboards are reports every analytics user needs to understand comes down to the way they are designed and consumed, and their level of granularity.
Design: BI dashboard design displays visual information such as KPIs in a single pane, while a report can be just as brief and high-level, or include detailed levels of information across multiple pages or screens, making it less suited for at-a-glance information consumption. Reports may also collate and connect to several dashboards to convey the broader story behind a particular set of data - which is probably why it is seen and used interchangeably with dashboards when discussing analytics.
Interactivity: Dashboards are web-based and thus accessed and consumed digitally, whereas reports, being static snapshots of specific data-sets, can be consumed online or in PDF (though data in dashboards can also be exported depending on the BI solution’s level of export support). Dashboards can be interacted with by users far more dynamically, as they can click on metrics and visualizations to drill down or filter a data set further, while reports are only a view of the picture as of the time of the report's creation.
Granularity: Dashboards provide a broad overview of data within its visualization and tables, while reports may only cover a specific segment of a data-set - making dashboards better for summary overview of performance, and reports for a more detailed focus - for example, of marketing metrics for the quarter per region.
Timeliness: Data on a dashboard vs report is updated live, helping business users keep up-to-date on how everything is performing or how KPIs are tracking, and is refreshed at regular intervals. Because reports offer a more static snapshot and are often consumed in non-digital formats (PDFs, etc) they don’t offer a moment-to-moment reflection of data. This makes dashboards better for monitoring and tracking data constantly, while reports are better for consumption of data-sets that do not change as quickly.
What should a dashboard and report contain?
Both reports and dashboards share multiple features in common for data analysis, and while the way they are presented or customized varies between self-service BI solutions, they always contain these same elements to analyze data:
- Data (numeric, text)
- Export options (printing, PDF, sharing)
- Filters and grouping
- Data Visualizations (chart, graph, map, sparklines, etc)
One of the best ways to understand the dashboards vs reports debate for yourself is to try Yellowfin’s Interactive Dashboard Gallery, which contains several self-service dashboard, report and data visualization examples based on best practices that can be clicked and tested by users on desktop and mobile devices.
See more: Yellowfin Interactive Dashboard Gallery
Dashboard vs report: Which is the better option to use?
This comes down to the business use case, and the BI solution in question - Power BI vs Yellowfin, for instance, poses different possibilities for its reports and dashboards, and report and dashboard design.
Dashboards are great for an everyday overview of what’s going on in the business thanks to its interactivity and timeliness of real-time updated data, while reports are best for a more in-depth look at a particular data-set, which can provide deeper insight than an at-a-glance summary. Both ultimately utilize and provide rich, helpful data visualization for deeper understanding of a topic.
Modern BI solutions such as Yellowfin offer both BI dashboards and reports that are highly interactive, customizable and suitable for a broad range of use cases, so you never have to choose one or the other - you can use both depending on the audience or use case, and imbue them with interactivity (alerts, drill down, automation) with ease.