The Data-Driven Executive: BI Dashboard Features Your CEO Needs

Dashboards have recently grown in popularity among businesses, with the largest group using them being C-level executives, like CEOs.

Data has become a critical resource for organizations to improve their bottom line and figure out what opportunities to focus on next. However, many still struggle with extracting valuable insight from data and acting on it.

In fact, Forrester reported that although 74% of enterprises say they strive to be data driven, only 29% say their organizations are good at turning data insights into actionable business outcomes.

The report also said, “Businesses are now keenly aware of the gap between what they can do with big data and what is possible.” This means that executives are noticing the disconnect between data and business value, making them question using it in the first place.

The Data Driven Executive - BI Dashboard Features Your CEO Needs

Well-designed dashboards are beneficial because they focus what’s going on and whether things have changed since the last view. Usually pairing key metrics with comprehensive visualizations, dashboards help CEOs quickly determine if they’re going in the right direction.

However, Daniel Mintz, Looker’s Chief Data Evangelist told Better Buys, “Dashboards are [only] the beginning of the story.”

Summarized Data vs. Actionable Insights

Many times, CEOs want a simple, “top-line view” or a “snapshot” of the state of business. This is understandable since they are typically reviewing the performance of the organization as a whole. However, dashboards can’t be static. Instead, they need to be interactive tools allowing CEOs to quickly engage with the data, ask questions and determine the best action to take next.

In our exclusive interview with Qlik, Daniel Brault, the Marketing Solutions Senior Manager, told us “Despite the common belief of execs, all executives want to take action.”

Static reports are summarized snapshots of information that can provoke questions, but they don’t give CEOs the ability to explore data to get actionable insight. That means they’ll take action knowing only part of the story, which can be risky for the business.

Some think visualizations alone are an effective form of communication, providing executives with all the information they need to extract valuable insights.

However, Brault said, “Keep in mind that visualizations aren’t just the answer. Everyone is going to understand a bar chart in their own way. [Visualizations] give you a picture of information to better understand at a higher level.”

Bottom line: Visualizations are powerful tools to display complicated data sets in a format that’s easily digested. They can help CEOs understand key metrics and easily spot trends. However, they aren’t the whole story, and should not be the determining factor for business decisions.

Although they might be used to going to IT with all of their queries, CEOs need more robust dashboard features to become truly data-driven.

Research-to-Practice Stages

According to a SciDev.Net report, Contributions to Evidence-Based Decision-Making, there are three stages of putting research and information into practice:

1.) Selection

This step involves getting “eyeballs” on relevant information. A well-designed dashboard is a great tool for data science experts to easily pass along key metrics and business trends to executives. Dashboards also highlight the most relevant information, rather than forcing executives to wade through large sets of metrics.

2.) Engagement

The SciDev.Net report says, “Engagement is an important step as it encourages readers to assimilate the information being communicated and to situate that information within their existing frameworks of knowledge.”

Many dashboard solutions contain visualization and drilldown features that allow CEOs to engage with data by asking questions, finding answers and making valuable connections. As Mintz mentioned to Better Buys, this type of interaction eliminates the lag time, and ultimately, the disconnect with the data when generating static reports. CEOs are able to access data without calling on IT.

3.) Uptake

Uptake is evidence-based decision-making. It takes the findings (insights) from the previous steps and applies them to the business’s objective. This allows CEOs to figure out what actions to take to improve the organization’s bottom line.

If the first two steps are executed effectively, information uptake will come naturally.

Important CEO Dashboard Features

Although there are no standard approach to data that fit all CEOs’ needs, Smartsheet has listed some dashboard features that improve the research-to-practice stages:

Real-Time Data

As Kreg Decker, One Vision Solutions president and CEO, has stated. “Using outdated reports to make business decisions is like having a gas gauge that shows how much gas you had three days ago.”

It’s important for CEOs to have access to the most up-to-date information possible in order to make effective decisions in a timely manner.

Access to Databases

A dashboard should be able to plug into your databases to query the data and be able to drill down to the low-level details, if needed.

An example of this is found in Looker’s dashboard solution. The CEO dashboard is able to access all the data in the data warehouse. This gives an executive the ability to drill down as far as needed to extract insights.

Drill-Down Abilities

Drill-down features are what eliminate the hassle of static reports and relying on IT by allowing a CEO to ask questions and seek their own answers right away, rather than waiting for a report.

Many dashboard solutions allow CEOs to click on a tile and manipulate the dimensions to get a more granular view of the data. Since each CEO processes information differently, some solutions include features like search and storytelling to help bring CEOs to the Uptake step of research-to-practice stages.

Qlik’s dashboard tool includes a search function, allowing executives to search through data sets and discover correlations with a general search bar. It also contains a storytelling feature. This follows your path to an insight and sends them through a natural language generator, giving a CEO the ability to work through an analysis in paragraph or visual form.

Access to Multiple Data Sources

A CEO dashboard should be able to access data from multiple sources besides your company’s databases.

Being able to integrate with third party solutions (like Google Analytics), department applications (like Sales Force), and social media platforms offers a well-rounded view of the organization’s progress from multiple perspectives.

Data Blending

As CEOs access more data, analyzing it becomes more complicated.

Data blending functions allow CEOs to easily correlate information from multiple data sources, giving a view of the whole business rather than summarized snapshots of different parts. This improves the evidence-based decision-making process through more informed reporting.

Data Governance

Dashboard solutions tend to scale well and allow easy access to data. So executives and managers may interpret data sets differently.

Data governance features assign permissions (like read-only locks or allowing data manipulation) for certain data sets to specific employees or departments. They can also assign a governed meaning of the data that is decided on by everyone. For instance, some may think a new employee’s start date is the day a contract is signed, where as others might say it’s the first day in the office. These different interpretations can cause skewed views and different meanings to data, resulting in data chaos.

Data governance reduces the amount of data chaos that can be created without any sense of democracy.


Dashboards are great tools to help executives become data-driven and streamline evidence-based decision-making. However, they need to be more than just a snapshot of current metrics and visualizations.

CEO dashboards need to contain features and elements that make data easily digestible and allow free exploration. Only through engagement and interaction with the data will a CEO be able to extract valuable and actionable insights.

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  1. “Data has become a critical resource for organizations to improve their bottom line and figure out what opportunities to focus on next. However, many still struggle with extracting valuable insight from data and acting on it.”

    Gaining insights from big data is a skill that can certainly be learned. Dashboards can greatly accelerate this process because they present information in meaningful ways. From there, CEOs can gain the insights needed to make product business decisions.

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