In this era of big data, companies are gathering tons of information. But much of that data is stored in ways that make it difficult for employees and managers to access it. One solution has been to write reports to share critical information. However, reports usually tell only one story or display just one piece of information.

Enter dashboards. Dashboards provide one spot to display key pieces of information at the same time to a common group of information consumers. Creating dashboards can be a cumbersome task, but luckily, there are tools that make it easier and deliver great results.

Let’s take a look at five web-based dashboard apps that connect to a variety of data sources and offer a variety of “look and feel” choices to suit your needs.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: Dashzen

Dashzen (Figure A) contains many gadgets for various online services, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as business-specific services, such as Google Analytics and Salesforce. You enter your account information, then select a type of chart or graph and specify the data you want depicted. One unique Dashzen feature is a World of Warcraft gadget. This works fairly simply: Provide your character and realm to display some character stats.

Figure A

Oddly, this is the only dashboard tool on this list that does not support custom data sources from JSON, Google spreadsheets, or even CSV.

2: Ducksboard

Ducksboard (Figure B) can tap into many sites’ APIs to display data, but it also offers its own API, which lets you send your own data into your dashboard. Ducksboard supports Google spreadsheets as a data source as well, for fairly static data visualizations.

Figure B

Ducksboard offers a number of unique background images, including the default, which looks like wood flooring.

3: Klipfolio

Unlike the other products in this list, Klipfolio (Figure C) doesn’t just link up to existing APIs and display data from them. It also allows you to build data sources against many types of data, including Excel, CSV, JSON, and basically any RESTful source. Klipfolio also has many more chart and graph types than the others, including composite graphs, target lines, and funnels.

Figure C

4: Leftronic

Leftronic (Figure D) has many available data sources, including some unique ones on this list, such as Zendesk, Meetup, and Yahoo Finance. It can graph data from these sources using many types of charts and graphs. Creating custom data source charts from Google spreadsheets is easy, too.

Figure D

Leftronic uses a grid layout, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the grid size chosen and the quantity of gadgets on the dashboard.

5: Dash

Dash (Figure E) uses a clean interface to provide data from various social and news sites, as well as website monitoring tools and fitness tracking sites. Uniquely on this list, TheDash supports static images and text as well as a clock widget and weather widget. And you can display custom data sources, like Google spreadsheets, as either a chart or a table.

Figure E

Also see…

The deciding factor

I was surprised at the variety of preset data sources available from each of these vendors and the fact that several of them supported unique APIs. It would seem that these vendors would strive to be competitive and support as many as possible. But given that, deciding on a dashboard vendor is going to depend more on which sites you need to link to and less on the look and feel of the dashboard site itself.

Have you used a web-based dashboard tool? Share your thoughts on the dashboard tool you like best.