1) If it requires > 5 seconds to refresh a page, you should be doing a cron job (or whatever) to generate and then just reading from cached data. If you have any pain in accessing data, you won't make decisions based on data.
2) I like to periodically update my dashboards to a) combat trend blindness and b) include new widgets for projects that have upcoming decisions to be made, like "Should I scale out this new SEO mini-project?" (You'd want data which showed you whether it was working or not.)
3) The point of having eye candy is not to display numbers, it is to make the right decisions. Don't include stuff that isn't actionable. (Exception: need to bamboozle investors? Give them all the data they want and more.)
While I agree that having access to _actionable_ metrics is what's really going to be the biggest tangible benefit of these sorts of systems, I've also found that there exists another class of data that, while not actionable, also provides some utility. These are often tagged with the 'vanity metrics' label and conventional wisdom deems them to be useless at best and distracting at worst but, I've found, they can sometimes be useful.
In other words, I may not be able to act (or know how to act) when they change but getting constant feedback from many aspects of my business helps me to notice subtle changes that may be interesting and that sometimes act as a harbinger for larger/more significant changes further down the line.
What these metrics are will entirely depend on your business what sort of person you are. For me, something like changes in my Twitter follower count (a classic vanity metric), when combined with a host of other signals can give me subtle cues about how the business is being perceived, what's causing that, is it a good change etc... none of it is immediately actionable but it all adds up; it's more data points leading a more rounded understanding of how my business works.
It's entirely possible I spend too much time dog-fooding my own product and most reasonable business owners don't have the time to explore these cues, but I do feel like it helps me to feel more connected to the day-to-day running of my own business.
Two thumbs up for metrics and startups and startups for metrics, but I hear "delta Twitter followers" and start seeing subtle distinctions teased out holistic evaluation of the arrangement of chicken entrails.
(The difference between Twitter followers and chicken entrails? Chicken entrails have measurable value - people can at least eat them.)
What I would say, however, is taken as one - albeit low weighted - input into a system (my brain) that might x-ref against some other indicators of different significance might lead to the conclusion "there's unusual activity afoot". The # of Twitter followers doesn't tell you much about what's happening but might indicate that something is happening.
Totally happens all the time
Our belief is that a small business management Dashboard must be simple. We also recommend, per Jim Collins and every CPA out there, finding your Profit per X or Revenue per X and keeping a keen eye on that number.
I only found it after clicking the FAQ link at the top, and even the signup screen is asking me to authorise paypal for an undisclosed amount.
(It was sitting near the top of the front page; I refreshed and then got curious about it, and had to look down the chronological list to find it again).
(Yeah, money is tight...)
Edit: Except the ones mentioned at the bottom of the post, of course.
Never realised there were so many out-of-the-box solutions already, this makes getting a good dashboard a weekend project! Sounds like a challenge ...
There's got to be a way to measure things and plan for the future, and reports/graphs/etc help a lot with that.
I think reports are necessary, but a dashboard really helps everyone see at a glance how things are going.
If your up-time graph looks like a heartbeat monitor, everyone knows what that means.
Likewise for active customers being a downhill slope when viewed weekly.
Most of the time, those graphs are just going to give you happy thoughts, but sudden spikes or dips, or worrisome things like those above... Well, you can SEE them and they mean more, especially to non-technical types.
I think that will change shortly.
most small businesses still use Excel and Access for their data. They consolidate their excel files from various sources like quickbooks, other spreadsheets. But if you are just starting, the only thing that matters is to measure the user count and number of sales.
It is only when you start spending for marketing, outsourcing etc you need to start keeping tab on your "profit margin","revenue" etc