Let's face it. Dashboard development tools are still in their infancy. While promising, today's tools are too rigid in their configuration options, do not conform to a standard implementation approach, and are often heavy on garish "bling." Though the predominant voices in visualization and dashboard design (Few, Tufte, etc.) espouse a best practice approach that can be summed up as "less is more," there still seems to be a fairly large gap between tool capability and best practice approach.
While we have had success developing dashboards for clients with dashboard development tools, the good news for those that don't yet own such tools is that you can still have a well designed custom dashboard with the technology you probably already own.
Recently, I've come across quite a few "best practice" dashboards emerge in the field, including those developed by our own consultants. The best thing about them is that they have been developed using tools that many organizations have already adopted including, Excel and SAS/Graph.
The Dashboard Spy points us to this Few inspired manufacturing dashboard done with SAS/Graph. Not only are the visualizations minimalist in nature while displaying maximum information, but they are incredibly "lightweight" from a performance perspective. In addition, a tremendous amount of information is represented in a relatively small footprint.
In this example, our consultants put together a dashboard in Excel based on OLAP cubes developed with SQL Server Analysis Services. Not only is Excel used as a front end for a dashboard, but it also serves to integrate the key performance indicators for additional ad hoc reporting and analysis.
So you see, not only is it possible to have a dashboard without additional investment in tools, but in some cases it may even be more desirable.