A Guide to BI Dashboards for Small to Medium Businesses

A Guide to BI Dashboards for Small to Medium Businesses

According to Gartner, small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are organizations with fewer than 1,000 employees and less than $1 billion in annual revenue. Most companies fall into this category, and hence, it’s an important segment in the overall mix.

SMBs have typically hustled their way to initial success and they dream of being a billion-dollar enterprise someday. However, what got them here, won’t get them there.

It takes many ingredients to journey from a successful SMB to a large enterprise. Common key factors that contribute to accelerated growth of an SMB are strong leadership, a great vision, the ability to execute on that vision, customer-centric products and programs, key partnerships, agility to react to market conditions, and technological advantages.

Underlying all these factors is a common denominator - data. SMBs live and die by the data in their systems.

Business intelligence (BI) is all about gaining insight from this data to drive business decisions. BI is critical to the daily operations and survival of any SMB, and the most practical way to leverage BI is in the form of dashboards.

In this article, we discuss the importance of BI dashboards for SMBs, and how SMBs should approach building and using BI dashboards. But first, let’s start with looking at how BI is used in SMBs.

How SMBs use BI dashboards

According to research by SoftwareAdvice, BI dashboards are used by all industries and all roles. However, certain teams tend to rely on dashboards more than others.

Operational dashboards use by department per industry

Operational dashboards use by department per industry

Source: SoftwareAdvice.com

In retail companies, sales teams tend to utilize BI dashboards the most. Similarly, construction and healthcare company support teams are the biggest users of BI dashboards. In manufacturing, sales and engineering dashboards are most commonly used.

When you think of the teams in your organization, which ones need BI the most? Let’s look at a few factors that indicate the need for BI dashboards.

Signs your company needs an efficient BI solution

Here are the top signs you need a BI solution:


Slow decision making

In an SMB, decisions need to be made by everyone, on a daily basis, within a short time frame. You have limited time to respond to situations, or they may get out of hand. Enterprises have the luxury of extra time to follow protocol and process for every decision, but not SMBs. In the SMB world, if you’re slow to make decisions and take action, you will soon be out-maneuvered by your competition.


The reckless abandon approach to decision making

With smaller team sizes, and flatter hierarchies, SMBs often suffer from feelings-based decision making. It’s often the person with the senior-most title who has the final say, even if their decision is not backed by data. This setting can be harmful for SMBs and stall their growth.

To achieve the next level of success, SMBs need to make decisions based on data. This takes a strong BI solution, and a structured decision making process.


Your BI strategy in one word is “Excel“

Many SMBs find themselves wading through Excel files to find last quarter’s sales figures, or a particular transaction that happened last week. While Excel is great for static, one-off reports, Excel alone makes for a poor BI strategy.

It becomes a bottleneck, making it difficult to use data for everyday decision making. Data entered into Excel becomes stale almost immediately in today’s fast moving SMBs. Real-time data unified into one place is key.

If you’re wondering what the solution is, the answer is BI dashboards. Let’s see what that means.

How BI dashboards make SMBs more strategic

According to data visualization expert, Stephen Few, “A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.” Let’s break that down into chunks to understand why BI dashboards are important to SMBs.

why BI dashboards are important to SMBs

Image Credits: Stephen Few

Clarity against your goals

A dashboard contains only the most important information to your organization, or to a specific team. This aligns all teams towards a common goal, and improves your chances of meeting the goal.

Importantly, at any time, you should be able to look at how close or far you are from reaching your goals for the quarter or the year. SMBs with poor BI processes are always in the dark about their performance.

They always second guess whether they’re in good health or in danger. The best solution to this is to introduce a BI dashboard with the most important metrics that matter to your organization, or a particular role.

Drive decision making lower in the chain

To be competitive, you need an agile workforce that feels empowered to make decisions related to their work. When you empower LOB managers and frontline reps with data, you immediately see a jump in productivity, quality of work, and customer happiness.

This is true whether you’re a manufacturing company, a retail chain, a healthcare organization or a professional services firm.

When data is restricted to just the top management, an SMB moves slowly because of the bottlenecks at every step of a decision. When you make BI dashboards available to every team member, you give every employee a chance to impact the most important metrics for your SMB.

Keep teams in sync

It’s chaos when each team has different goals that don’t fit with each other, or even worse, conflict with each other. A BI solution brings all teams to look at data holistically, and speak a common “data language.”

In practice, this means that marketing is able to qualify leads based on criteria that sales agrees on or human resources is able to source new talent in advance of a new client being on-boarded.

When teams are united in this way, they can perform at much higher levels, and the organization is a lot more competitive.

Now that you’re convinced you need a BI solution, how do you go about creating awesome BI dashboards? Let’s look at that next.

Best practices when creating BI dashboards for SMBs

Setting up a BI strategy requires you to take a long hard look at all the data residing in your organization, and then follow these key steps:

Identify your most important metrics

There are tons of metrics you can track across your organization, but only a handful of them really matter. You need to start at the company level, identifying key metrics like revenue, budget burn, customer acquisition rate, customer happiness, accuracy of planning, or whatever metrics are most important to your organization.

Then drill down to more specific metrics for each team which eventually tie into these top-level metrics. For example, the company revenue metric could be split across five sales reps, and each of them now have a revenue target.

Next, you need to find a way to fit all your important metrics onto a single screen of your BI solution. This way, you can always know where you stand by a glance at your BI dashboard.

Keep your data fresh

Once you’ve identified your key metrics, you need to figure out how to access the data for these metrics. But remember, outdated data will lead to bad decision making.

The data for each metric may lie hidden in different parts of your organization, and some of it may be outdated, inaccurate, or duplicate. It’s important to wrangle all that data together, and clean it up, so that it can be presented in the form of your key metrics on a single-page dashboard.

Place a premium on action

Once you’ve got your metrics in place, the last mile is to make a commitment to take action on the knowledge you now possess. If one of your teams, or employees, is far from reaching their goal, you can easily get an update from them, and sort out any obstacles that may be in their way.

This way, a BI dashboard surfaces real issues, and forces you to find solutions to them.

Finally, as you build a BI dashboard, what are some things to keep in mind?

What features to look for in a BI Dashboard for SMBs

Can be implemented across teams

A BI solution for SMBs should cater to all teams, not just a few. This means integrating data from disparate systems that are used by various teams and bringing them into a common BI platform.

This needs to be followed up by having strong collaboration features like commenting, sharing of a chart, or routing of issues to a ticketing system, for example. The more inclusive a BI tool is, the more effective it can be in an SMB.

Is easy to customize

With the BI tool being used by multiple teams and at various levels of operation, it should be very easy to create ad hoc reports on the go. The BI tool should give you the ability to customize your data groups according to vernacular used by your organization.

Additionally, you should be able to perform advanced analysis like sorting, filtering, segmenting, and viewing the same data in the form of various chart types. Importantly, all this should be possible for every user to do without the help of IT. This last part allows your data to be truly liberated and useful in your organization.

Must be web-based & mobile accessible

With the bring your own device (BYOD) wave hitting most SMBs today, it’s imperative to have a BI tool that’s not tied to a company hardware server. Instead, your BI solution should be accessible from a web browser, and on mobile devices, so your employees can get work done on the go. Cloud based BI is essential to scalability and accessibility.


To recap, SMBs need to interpret data in real-time and take action right away for their survival. If your organization is suffering from slow processes, inefficiencies, loss of opportunities, loss of revenue, and lack of real-time collaboration, you need a robust BI solution.

A BI dashboard can align your teams towards a common goal, and ensure every team member is empowered to make decisions and take action.

Finally, when choosing a BI tool, you need to pick one that works for all teams across your organization, and ensures data-driven decision making. Allocable is one BI tool that sheds light on the performance of your organization at every level, highlights resource utilization across teams, and is able to integrate and unify data metrics across your organization.

Allocable brings visibility, and certainty, as you track and move towards your goals. With state-of-the art visualization and analysis features, you’ll be equipped to make the toughest decisions with ease. Try Allocable in your SMB organization today, and give your business an innovative and competitive advantage.

View a demo of Allocable to get started today.


Allocable is a cloud-based automated time tracking and business intelligence (BI) software platform that provides  a complete visualization of your workforce and project productivity data empowering you to turn information into actionable insight to optimize and forecast performance with more certainty.


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