Data Dashboards 101

5 min read Cres Hay on Mar 1, 2023
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What are Real-Time Data Dashboards?

The concept of real-time dashboards can be different depending on the user’s role in an organization. Many great dashboards allow users to monitor performance by displaying historical trends and even providing actionable insights based on real-time information. Still, its definition, at the core, is the same: they are information management tools that aggregate and visualize data from multiple data sources to help users tell the story.

While there’s no comprehensive history of data visualization available, it’s believed that the first recorded instance was the Turin Papyrus Map which is an ancient Egyptian (1160 BC) topographical map that shows the distribution of geological resources. The ideograms and hieroglyphs on cave walls dating back to prehistoric times can also be considered early forms of data visualization. Throughout the centuries, inventions like paper, parchment, and instruments for precise observation contributed to the evolution of data visualization. But it was the reduction in processing costs, cloud computing where data can be accessed from anywhere, and the introduction of Software-as-a-Service that opened up "data visualization" to everyone, including those without UI/UX and technical training.

Why are dashboards important?

To remain competitive, companies need business intelligence to make data-driven decisions. And dashboards can help make data accessible in an easy-to-consume manner that goes beyond run-of-the-mill line charts and pie charts. It promotes data democracy—which allows every end-user in an organization, regardless of their design and technical know-how, to work with big data comfortably, talk about it with confidence, and as a result, make data-driven decisions and build products and customer experiences powered by that data. Dashboards are often the best way to make big data less overwhelming and more interesting, as they take the data out of Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint and puts it into a more interactive user interface.

You can have the most robust data infrastructure in place—where data has been cleaned, normalized, and ready for use in a timely manner—but if the information is difficult to access, analyze, or understand then it can’t be used to its full potential. This is akin to having the best product in the world, but if customers can’t get to the product, then you’ve failed. 

An executive at a company I worked for used to say “data is king, but delivery is king kong.” The same applies here to data and dashboards. Good dashboards - especially well-designed visually-compelling ones that lead the reader’s eyes to tell the story - help companies get more value from their data, it consolidates and automates how you get to various metrics, ensure stakeholders and departments are on the same page, and allow everyone to measure and monitor in ways that are most meaningful for the task at-hand or their function. It becomes an organization’s single source-of-truth for decision making.

Types of Dashboards

At a high level, there are three main types of dashboards: Operational, Strategic, and Analytical. (Some have a fourth one called Tactical, which we’ve rolled into Operational for this blog.) We’ll now take you through what each type does, who uses them, when or how often is the data updated, and what actions users can take when working with each of these dashboards.


The first type of dashboard we’ll discuss here is the Operational dashboard. Operational dashboards answer the question of What is happening NOW?. They’re used to monitor real-time or transactional data. Managers and their teams within the engineering, operations, and support functions use operational dashboards the most often because the data is updated frequently, possibly even up to the minute.

With operational dashboards, users troubleshoot, respond to, and resolve issues if the performance of the system or events being monitored is not as expected. Timing is especially important because they are used to measure system uptime and latency, ensuring service-level agreements with customers are met and making sure customer experience does not suffer. 


Strategic dashboards monitor the long-term company strategy with the help of critical success factors. Questions this type of dashboard can answer are What is the health of our company or product? How are we doing to date as a business? and What’s the status of our key metrics? 

Great strategic business dashboards have features like benchmarks against their own industries—direct and indirect—along with the impact of key economic indicators, such as unemployment rates, interest rates, and consumer confidence, to help teams make even more effective business decisions proactively.

Strategic dashboards are often used by the c-suite, directors, and executives on sales teams, in marketing, and in finance functions. Data updates are less frequent than with operational dashboards, but depending on the scenario, it’s sometimes updated hourly or daily. More common time frames for updates are frequencies are weekly, monthly or quarterly, however.

Oftentimes, strategic dashboards summarize performance over a period of time (e.g. month over month) and decision makers adjust strategy and plans accordingly based on the results they’re seeing. 


The last main dashboard type is the Analytical dashboard, which analyzes large volumes of data to glean insights. Analysts and executives in the data science, product, and marketing functions use these dashboards most often. Data is updated hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly and are most often stored for a long time.

Storing and accessing data at a later date allows users to investigate trends, predict outcomes, discover insights, and establish targets based on insights into historical data. Analytical dashboards become even more robust with industry metrics, key economic indicators, and environmental data mixed in with company metrics, allowing for forecasting and modeling.

Regardless of dashboard type, however, business context is key to ensuring the correct interpretation of what you’re looking at. If you’re not using the right input data and reading the resulting analytics with the appropriate context, then you’re wasting valuable time and resources, potentially making incorrect decisions that could negatively impact your business and customers.

Dashboards and PubNub

What data dashboards do PubNub customers have access to?

Developers use operational dashboards in the engineering function to monitor the health of PubNub connections. The Usage Page analytical dashboard is also used by finance, product managers, and developers to see billable and monitoring metrics.

We've rolled out an exciting new approach to dashboards for your apps. PubNub Insights provides users with usable analytics and actionable insights they can use to make important decisions about the direction and functionality of their app.

Not a PubNub user but want to get more data into your app? Let’s chat about how PubNub can improve visibility into your application and operations. We will ensure that your team has the constant real-time visibility and clear, actionable insights they need to confidently develop, deploy, and operate your app.