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Dashboard or Scorecard: Which Should You Use?

by Wayne Eckerson
To borrow a term from the telecommunications industry, dashboards and scorecards represent the "last mile" of wiring that connects users to the data warehousing and analytical infrastructure that organizations have created during the past decade.

Quietly and without much fanfare, a majority of organizations in the past year or two have adopted dashboards and scorecards as their preferred way of viewing performance information.

In many ways, dashboards and scorecards represent the culmination of business intelligence. A dashboard or scorecard interface finally makes it easy for a majority of users to quickly find, analyze, and explore the information they need to perform their jobs on a daily basis. To borrow a term from the telecommunications industry, dashboards and scorecards represent the "last mile" of wiring that connects users to the data warehousing and analytical infrastructure that organizations have created during the past decade.

Industry Conceptions

Although many people use the terms "dashboard" and "scorecard" synonymously, there is a subtle distinction that is worth understanding. (See Table 1.)

Dashboards Monitor and Measure Processes. The common industry perception is that a dashboard is more real-time in nature, like an automobile dashboard that lets drivers check their current speed, fuel level, and engine temperature at a glance. It follows that a dashboard is linked directly to systems that capture events as they happen and it warns users through alerts or exception notifications when performance against any number of metrics deviates from the norm.

Scorecards Chart Progress Toward Objectives. The common perception of a scorecard, on the other hand, is that it displays periodic snapshots of performance associated with an organization's strategic objectives and plans. It measures business activity at a summary level against predefined targets to see if performance is within acceptable ranges. Its selection of key performance indicators helps executives communicate strategy and focuses users on the highest priority tasks required to execute plans.

Whereas a dashboard informs users what they are doing, a scorecard tells them how well they are doing. In other words, a dashboard records performance while a scorecard charts progress. In short, a dashboard is a performance monitoring system, whereas a scorecard is a performance management system.

Industry Perceptions

  Dashboard Scorecard
Purpose Displays performance Displays progress
Usage Performance monitoring Performance management
Updates Real-time feeds Monthly snapshots
Data Events Summaries
Measures Metrics Key performance indicators
Context Exceptions, alerts Targets, thresholds
Source Linked to systems Linked to plans

Table 1. Both dashboards and scorecards display performance
information in a compact way, but there are distinctions.

Reality Blurs the Distinction

In reality, however, these distinctions often fall apart when we examine how organizations use dashboards and scorecards in practice. Most dashboards provide context to evaluate performance. Even indicators on an automobile dashboard provide more than just raw data. The labels on the gauges show when you are speeding, need more fuel, or have an engine that is overheating. Newer cars even alert drivers with flashing lights or audible sounds when conditions need immediate attention.

Conversely, many scorecards provide users with more than just monthly snapshots of summary performance data. Executives employ scorecards to empower users to work more proactively. The best scorecards provide "actionable information"--the right data delivered to the right person at the right time to take positive action. There is no use charting a department's progress if the data arrives too late or without sufficient detail for users to know how to fix a problem or capitalize on a transient opportunity.

Not Mutually Exclusive. Thus, dashboards and scorecards are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the best dashboards and scorecards merge elements from one another. If dashboards don't measure performance against key business objectives, then why is the organization engaged in that business activity at all? If scorecards don't empower users with actionable information to change performance outcomes, then what's the point of keeping score?

Dashboard Containers

As a result, I like to view dashboards as the container for performance information and scorecards as the content of that container. To use another metaphor, a dashboard might be an envelope and the scorecard a letter within it. (See Illustration 1.) Here, the dashboard is the visual display of performance indicators arranged on one or more screens and the scorecard is the information delivered through those indicators.

Illustration 1. A dashboard is a visual container for performance information or the "scorecard."

Basic Dashboard Design

Well-designed dashboards consist of a "cover page" that presents scorecard information in a form that is most easily consumable by the target audience and multiple "inside" pages that provide more detailed data and additional dimensions that might be relevant for further analysis of performance conditions.

Cover Page Design. The "cover page" is designed for quick and easy monitoring. Only the most important measures are displayed on the cover page--usually three to seven--and in a graphical manner that is easy to absorb. A user's security privileges based on their role and level in the organization dictates what views and data the dashboard presents them. Cover pages use common graphical indicators such as stoplights, gauges, and dials to communicate performance information quickly, although operational specialists often prefer to see data and text at an initial glance instead of graphical indicators. Dashboard cover pages also clearly highlights "out of bounds" conditions as alerts, using color, shapes, sounds, or flashing elements.

Inside Page Design. In contrast, the "inside pages" of a dashboard are designed for analysis and exploration. These usually consist of tables and charts as well as visual controls (e.g., drop-down lists or buttons) that let users shift the view of data to more details or other subjects. For example, instead of looking at "sales by region," a user could drill to more detail and view "sales by city" or shift dimensions and view "sales by product." In addition, some dashboards embed predefined analytical paths--often called guided analysis--that lead less experienced users from one view or report to another to examine or resolve a performance issue. Some dashboards also embed workflow and collaboration capabilities so critical information can be shared quickly and easily with others whose knowledge or responsibilities can help solve a problem.


A well designed dashboard communicates performance in context quickly and easily. It gives users just the information they need in a quick glance and even alerts them to conditions that need immediate attention. Whether you call it a dashboard or scorecard doesn't really matter. The key is whether you can leverage these new tools to inform users with actionable information so they can more effectively execute the organization's key strategic objectives, plans, and business processes.

Wayne Eckerson is director of research at The Data Warehousing Institute and is currently working on a book on dashboards for John Wiley & Sons.

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Wayne Eckerson - Wayne has been a thought leader in the business intelligence field since the early 1990s. He has conducted numerous research studies and is a noted speaker, blogger, and consultant. He is the author of two widely read books: Performance Dashboards: Measuring, Monitoring, and Managing Your Business (2005, 2010) and The Secrets of Analytical Leaders: Insights from Information Insiders (2012).

Wayne is founder and principal consultant at Eckerson Group, a research and consulting company focused on business intelligence, analytics and big data.