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Reports vs Dashboards or Reports + Dashboards?

By Zachary Taylor posted Fri January 31, 2020 06:31 PM


We enjoy hearing about the many ways that you, our customers, are using Cognos Analytics.  People from many different types of teams, industries, and skill levels are using Cognos Analytics to bring analytical insight to their work. After hearing from many different customers, however, I will venture to claim that many and even most people - whether they are experienced report authors, environment administrators, or brand new users of the tool - have much more analytical capability at their fingertips that they have not taken full advantage of.  Cognos Analytics has a lot more to offer. 

My team spends time working with teams on this good-problem-to-have by helping them to become more familiar with the newest features in Cognos Analytics. In these discussions, one questions that comes up is "When should I use reports and when should I use dashboards? What's the right tool for the job?"  On this common topic, a few things come to mind: 

  • First, while you can share data and display visuals in both reports and dashboards, they each differ in how you distribute this information.  Reports typically get distributed, dashboards are central and are accessed on demand.  Think about reports like a newsletter, an email, a mailing that you share at some frequency to many different people.  Think of dashboards like your website - a central place users visit to access information.  

  • Second, while you can format and customize both reports and dashboards to fit your style, reports allow for more customization and pixel-perfect formatting while dashboards allow you to assemble insights with speed.  You can customize each element on a report - color, font, page layout, padding, etc. whereas you can very quickly assemble a dashboard with some quick drag-and-drop actions.  (Caveat:  new features in reports make them faster to build, and new features in dashboards allow deeper customization, but the general idea holds.)

  • Third, users experienced with past versions of Cognos tend to gravitate towards reports while brand new users tend to prefer dashboards. People who have invested the time to learn custom report building often want to use that knowledge for building a wide variety of report outputs.  But when people are starting out fresh, we see them move towards dashboards.  The reality is, you can communicate your insights in a variety of ways, so you can generally use the feature that you feel most comfortable with.  I don't recommend limiting users to a single type of output, but advocate for letting users choose their preferred medium to get the job done.  
If you happen to go to your local music store with Yo-Yo Ma, you aren't likely to ask him to pick up a tuba to demonstrate his musical skills.  Let him use the instrument he's already mastered.  For others, it might be wise to avoid the cello, the bagpipes, and the sitar and instead pick up a guitar, learn a few chords and start playing along quickly to a favorite tune.  Likewise, for Cognos Analytics users who love to discuss the finer points of design and performance tuning, I recommend continuing to build great reports. For others, I recommend jumping straight into a dashboard to quickly start sharing data-driven insights.  

Whoever you are, with Cognos Analytics, you've got what it takes to pick up and start jamming



1 comment



Mon February 10, 2020 10:51 AM

This may be the first IBM/Cognos article to reference Yo-Yo Ma. Congratulations!