Dashboards Without Graphs?

Is a dashboard a dashboard if it doesn’t have charts or graphs?   According to dashboard experts like Stephen Few, who has authored several books on dashboard design, the answer is no.  In the book, Information Dashboard Design, Mr. Few states that, “a dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives that has been consolidated on a single computer screen so it can be monitored at a glance.”  A dashboard consisting of financial reports, therefore, cannot possibly be a real dashboard because you cannot monitor it at a glance.    If the viewer must scroll around to see all of the information because the full report will not display on the screen, that is clearly not a dashboard according to Mr. Few.

Maybe from an academic viewpoint, Stephen Few is correct, but from a practicality standpoint, I could not disagree with him more on this subject.   The ability for a program or grant manager to see a detailed report showing actual expenses versus budget on a real-time basis, for example, is invaluable.  Dashboards are the ideal medium for making those reports available to those managers.

I’m not saying, of course, that visual cues are not important.   Take those actual vs. budget reports, for example.   What if those reports (see Exhibit A below) could be color coded so that the line items that are getting close to budget are highlighted in yellow and the line items over budget are highlighted in red so the program / grant manager can quickly hone in on potential problems.   Even better, what if the program / grant manager had the ability to drill down into any of those line items to see the actual transactions and the supporting documentation?   And, heaven forbid, what if those reports were accessible real-time from a smartphone or a tablet?

Exhibit A

The answer to all of those questions is a resounding “You can have reports like that.”  That functionality is available today out-of-the-box with Intacct.  In fact, that is one of the reasons why Intacct is the fastest growing, true cloud financial ERP solution for Non-profits.  Like most of today’s business software applications, Intacct has dashboards.   And, yes, Intacct will let you create dashboards with fancy graphs and visuals. What makes Intacct different and much more valuable than other ERP systems, however, is that the dashboards are not limited to graphs. You can actually take any report in the system and put it on a dashboard.   Then, you can make those dashboards available to any stakeholder whether they are inside or outside of your organization.  All they need to access those reporting dashboards is your permission, a browser and an internet enabled device.  Intacct automatically conforms to the browser and the device form factor.

Outside of funding, the biggest challenge that most not-for-profit financial managers have today is simply how to make information available to people in a timely fashion.  With Intacct, that challenge goes away.   In minutes, you can create a dashboard for a person or role, add their key reports to it, give them rights to it and then activate it.  It’s literally that simple.  Problem solved.  With Intacct, you can truly hold your program / grant manager accountable for their budgets.


Author:  James Meyer is a principal and the Director of Business Solutions & Technology at Maner Costerisan, a full service CPA firm based in Lansing, Michigan.  Maner Costerisan is a leading provider of financial accounting software solutions, technology consulting and traditional CPA services to not-for-profits throughout the Great Lakes area.   Contact James, 517.886.9513 or jmeyer@manersolutions.com, for more information. www.manersolutions.com

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ERP professionals providing insight and advice for not for profit organizations.