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The Power of Dashboards & Storyboarding: Getting Your Data’s Real Story

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Our team is constantly introducing new customers to iDashboards and our software, so we’ve heard almost every question possible. One way that we like to answer our new customers’ questions is through our storyboarding process.

Many people hear “storyboarding” and think of a film set and the way a director plans his shots and frames, and the iDashboards storyboarding process is similar. Just like when a director is framing a movie, our goal is to drilldown from endless possibilities into the best charts for our client’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics. There isn’t a formal set of rules for creating a logical, intuitive or insightful dashboard – so how do we go from a blank canvas to powerful insights from data? The storyboarding process is the answer.

Here’s a high-level overview of how we can help you get started with your new dashboards by storyboarding.

Our storyboarding process begins with gathering the dashboard project stakeholders in the same room, in front of a whiteboard. It is imperative to have everyone present so we’re aware of everyone’s goals and are able to be more efficient.

The next step is to agree on the dashboard’s purpose and audience – the two most important key considerations in a dashboard’s design. Knowing the purpose, what insights the company is looking to glean, and who will be using the dashboard will help in selecting the correct metrics.

Then begins what most of us think of as storyboarding: dividing the whiteboard into 4 frames and beginning to think about data in a more visual way. The group will decide on a metric to be displayed on the dashboard and establish “Product, Group and Timeframe” for the metric.

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For example, if you would like to show current month’s average sales versus the same month from last year for each sales manager in the company, using the PGT method will ensure you capture all information. This process is repeated for every metric to be included in the dashboard. We typically recommend clients include 4-6 metrics per dashboard.

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We will then assist in determining the best chart for each metric. With a library of more than 100 types of charts and graphs, there is an option for any possible metric! Include a sketch of these charts and graphs on the whiteboard so you begin to understand how the dashboard will really work.

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The final step is adding color to your charts. We recommend consulting with your graphic design team to ensure brand colors are used according to your organization’s brand standards. Also, think about using color in familiar ways – we often see clients use red, yellow and green, typically seen in traffic lights, for metrics to indicate success or failure.

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Our storyboarding process allows clients to take a deep dive into their existing data sources and take the time to really determine what they want to measure. This allows dashboards to be built into exactly what you need and will lead to highly successful implementation.

Storyboarding can seem a little overwhelming but it is much easier to create and make changes on a whiteboard than an actual dashboard. If you’re interested in diving in more to the storyboarding process or hands-on training, please contact us at http://www.idashboards.com/Contact.aspx.

How have you used storyboarding? Could you see how storyboarding could help your organization?

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Dashboards For Your Customers: They’re Not Just for Internal Use

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You can’t bore your clients into better understanding. It’s important to get data to your clients when they need it, and it’s important to put data into a format that is easily understood by your client and moves them toward positive action. Accountants, consultants, analysts and Fortune 500 clients are having great success by reporting back to their clients with interactive dashboards.

Here are three examples:

  • The world’s largest distributor of technology products had been sending weekly reports to its largest 2,000+ customers regarding their purchases; however, their customers were drowning in the well-tabulated data contained in these reports. The company realized their customers would be better served with insightful dashboards displaying data graphically, with drilldown options and visual analytics so they made the switch to those dashboards. They built a single set of dashboards and using the “filter by user” function now provide customized dashboards that their customers can access live from any Internet-enabled device.
  • A large travel-related services organization had been reporting travel spend to thousands of accounts in massive spreadsheets that didn’t really tell the most important story: how much money were they saving the client? These reports provided travel spend aggregated by department, location and region, all broken into various categories – air, hotel, cab, auto-rental, meals and entertainment. One of their client managers decided to break the status quo by championing a set of dashboards for his select few clients so they could see the value of the relationship with the service organization. The manager worked with iDashboards’ cloud-based offering and had dashboards to his client in about a week, starting with a dashboard that clearly shows the cost savings provided by the vendor. When rolled out at a client meeting, the manager and his team got a standing ovation and the initiative was so successful that other client executives have persuaded their leadership to adopt customer-facing dashboards for other key accounts.
  • An accounting firm was looking for a meaningful way to report back to their clients. They wanted full mobility so their clients could grab a dashboard on their iPad, as well as the ability to customize dashboards for specific clients. They used iDashboards to build a “suite” of dashboards that are standardized (again using “filter by user”) but also have complete flexibility to create custom dashboards for specific clients as needed.

It’s 2015. Are you still reporting in Excel like it’s 1985? (Did you know Ronald Reagan was President when Excel was introduced?) Whether you’re a single consultant or a Fortune 100 company, you probably share the same issue as the clients mentioned above: How do we get data to our customers in a meaningful and insightful way?

Interestingly, in all the examples above there is a great IT staff and meaningful reporting, but when it came to sharing information with their clients, IT wasn’t able to make the desired changes. In each case, it was someone outside of IT who became the champion of getting data into a format that was more meaningful to the client.

It shouldn’t take much imagination to put yourself into your customer’s shoes, because we are all customers of other products and services. If you’re sending reports and spreadsheets overloaded with data, are your clients finding them overwhelming and of little value? Every customer needs something that will deliver intelligence and insight into the products and services they buy and you should be providing that to them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if each of your vendors were to take the initiative to add value to the data they are collecting and present it in a graphical dashboard with quick insights? If your company is reporting back to your clients, wouldn’t it benefit them (and you) to provide that reporting in a way that is meaningful and creates positive action? Dashboards don’t just have to be internal facing – consider the ways they can help you as you communicate with your clients.

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Make Your Office Art Captivating and Intelligent With Dashboard Displays!

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What kind of art is currently taking up expensive space on your office walls? Inspirational paintings? Quotes? City landmarks, modern art, employee accolades, company event photos, company awards? For every kind of workspace we share – from corporate offices to call centers to production floors – there’s a type of art meant to inspire, calm or simply communicate the company’s values.

Yet, no matter what message a company is trying to send, there’s one conclusion that it’s probably fair to make: after seeing the art on the office wall just one time, employees and customers may not ever notice it again. In fact, only its absence will be enough to evoke any response at all. Our subconscious filters out extraneous information. And nothing is so expendable, so fit to be lost in the background, as most office art.

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Why waste all that valuable space with forgettable art? Today, with LCD display technology so affordable, and dashboard software so readily available, it’s possible to easily create a continuously updated dashboard display that compels attention while communicating key information. It’s art that’s as immediately relevant as it is interesting. And it’s a great way to communicate your company’s underlying values – that your company is modern, innovative and embraces the future.

The decision of what to display is as varied as the types of information you can display on a dashboard. Team metrics, customer maps, new employee announcements, employee awards, top sales performer scorecards, videos and any other digital content are all good candidates. In fact, there are some within the business world who believe that data visualization can be as artistic and engaging as the art you might hanging in a museum, according to a recent Time magazine cover story.

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Content can be updated daily or weekly, and many of the metrics can even be real-time. For example, sales for the current period, number of calls made and sales in the pipeline can all be displayed in real-time when connected to respective origination systems, such as a CRM program or phone system.

In the main lobby or customer-facing areas, you can also install separate customer-oriented intelligent displays. Relevant content might include customer wait times, marketing announcements, current promotions, new product releases, product videos, customer testimonial videos, company awards, media coverage, etc. The advantage of a dynamic dashboard solution is that it can provide informative real-time information mixed with beautiful artwork in a slideshow presentation, keeping the display interesting without making it too self-serving.

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Touch-sensitive displays can provide yet another level of interactivity. For example, a user can click on specific graphics to drill down and receive additional information, or pause and resume the slideshow, or can even perform a visual query using drop-down lists and sliders. It’s like having a computer browser at your fingertips.

For more information or to discover how others use iDashboards Display Solution check out:
http://www.idashboards.com/Products/iDashboards-Display-Solution.aspx

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The Recent Hype Cycles of Business Intelligence

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Having seen the last 15 years of business intelligence (BI) developments, one unmistakable phenomenon is the hype cycles within this segment. Hype cycles are like tornadoes – they start with a little shake-up in a few intellectual minds and then build up speed and intensity. Eventually, it consumes all of the tech masses in its spate. Everyone from thought-leaders, analysts, bloggers, tech leaders and their followers get swept into an irresistible hype vortex.

Here’s a quick timeline of the hype cycles of enterprise BI through the last 15 years:

2000-2005: BI for the masses

This hype cycle focused on the promising idea that BI should service all levels of an organization. The thought was phrased as from the mailroom to the boardroom. The growing data volumes should be leveraged, democratized and wielded as an asset for the entire organization. Ad hoc reports that can be generated from a meta-data layer by any user help to mask underlying data complexity.

2005-2010: Dashboards

The second major hype cycle included the next generation of graphical reporting, centered on ease of use for the masses. Technical and business users should be able to easily process information, perform what-if analysis, get alerts on their dashboards and be quickly informed through color-coded traffic light and speedometer look-alike graphical widgets.

2010-2014: In-memory Analytics

The notion that in-memory data retention can churn data at the speed of thought and give users instant data analysis from large data volumes was the central idea of the third main hype cycle. It included a set of proprietary data caching technologies (vendor-specific) sold on the idea that they were better alternatives to data warehousing, data marts and traditional (and complex) BI systems.

2014-2017: Self-service BI

The next few years will focus on the idea that business users should be able to seek answers on their own to typical data-driven questions. This is also termed as data discovery – how you connect data discovery software to your data sources and allow business users to discover enlightening answers, which help them in their work. Obviously, we are living through this hype-cycle and my prediction is that like its predecessors, it will begin to settle down in its third year. By 2017 the next hype will begin to take shape. The big question is – what will it be?

The negative impact of these hype cycles is how they leave behind shattered expectations, expensive unused software and include business-users still dealing with their spreadsheets – much like they did in the 90s, except the data volumes now are at a much greater magnitude.

The positive impact of hype cycles is that they leave behind some good technologies in their wake, which often get acquired and absorbed by the few huge companies in the software industry. Fortunes are made by a few, a lot of excitement is created and we all get to enjoy the adrenaline of the rising hype. There is something to look forward to for everyone – industry analysts, bloggers, event planners, tech enthusiasts and BI professionals.

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Do You Want Instant Insights Into Data or Data Discovery?

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Per industry analysts, data discovery has experienced a meteoric rise within the last two years. Also referred to as “self-service BI,” it is the latest hyped concept within business intelligence (BI).

As the Director of Enterprise Sales at iDashboards, I receive information on hundreds of client conversations each week. We work with everyone from small non-profit organizations to large Fortune 500 clients across every industry, and most of our clients have evaluated or reviewed one of the data discovery tools. One common dilemma resonates through these conversations – the primary need for data discovery or instant insight to the end-user. These are two divergent needs, and there is no single solution on the market yet that can deliver both equally well. Data discovery vendors may claim that their solution delivers instant insight to business users. But, the presentation quality and usability for non-technical users doesn’t come close to the best-in-class benchmark.

On the other hand, they bring great power to the analytical users. Data discovery tools give them the ability to mine and explore large data volumes without dependency on IT or BI departments, which are responsible for maintenance of the databases. However, when they need to present their exploratory results to the decision makers and stakeholders, the presentation is far from ideal and they require different solutions for the final product.

Instant insight is the expectation of the business users who require credible intelligence from the voluminous data to improve their decision-making. They are not interested in discovering information, but simply want a good interface to quickly and succinctly understand the story being told by data. They have no time or inclination to be data discoverers. In any organization, typically more than 80% of the information users will fall into this category.

So, what the decision comes down to is the intended user-base. If end-users are non-analysts and simply need an intuitive presentation with a better alternative to their favorite spreadsheets and PowerPoint, they need instant insight. Some of the key capabilities these end users are looking for include richly animated dashboards, intuitive drilldown features, real-time alerts, what-if analysis and engaging infographics. A solution like iDashboards fits their needs best – an elegant and cost-effective dashboard platform.

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iDashboards Roadshow Rolls Out to 3 Midwest Cities for Complimentary Seminars

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The iDashboards team is traveling to three cities in June as part of the iDashboards Roadshow. Our Roadshow is a seminar that educates business and technology professionals on the benefits of and best practices for implementing and utilizing dashboards.

The iDashboards Roadshow will provide attendees with a clear understanding of how well-constructed dashboards allow users to better monitor, analyze and identify trends in their data. These seminars are free to attend and will include a presentation on the “Dashboards and the BI Landscape.”

One of the highlights will be the customer panel, where current customers of iDashboards provide real world stories and insight into their own experiences with dashboards. There will also be a product demonstration and a Q-and-A session. We’ll finish with a networking and cocktail hour at the end of each seminar so you can get to know fellow attendees.

For leaders looking for enhanced ways to make sense of their critical data and drive better business decisions, the iDashboards Roadshow is a perfect opportunity to see and hear firsthand about the power of dashboards. We’ll discuss how the business intelligence landscape is changing and how decision-makers can leverage dashboards to transform raw data into meaningful and useful information that helps identify trends and improve business operations.

I’ll be leading the three seminars this month. We hope to see you at one of our Roadshow stops!

The iDashboards Roadshow will visit:

  • Detroit, MI: Hilton Garden Inn Detroit – Southfield, 1:00 p.m. on June 22, 2015
  • Cleveland, OH: Crowne Plaza Cleveland South – Independence, 1:00 p.m. on June 23, 2015
  • Chicago, IL: Courtyard Chicago Downtown/Magnificent Mile, 1:00 p.m. on June 24, 2015

For more information on the iDashboards Roadshow, click here.

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Educational Institutions and Data Visualization

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Leading and growing any organization, especially an educational institution, requires more than just big data alone. If you cannot effectively understand the implications of multiple data sets, you may be missing opportunities to improve outcomes.

And when it comes to the education of our children and young adults, the stakes are high. Everything a school district or university does can directly impact the quality of the education it provides and the future success of the students in attendance.

But with data visualization permeating every market, decision-making can now be reinforced with easy-to-understand trends, correlations and graphs, thereby providing actionable insights.

Roll Call
Due to state and federal mandates, student data, such as attendance records, is already being collected at K-12 educational organizations. However, this information is not commonly being examined or used to its full potential.

Companies such as ours are partnering with schools around the country to detect students who are at risk for chronic truancy. By displaying the trends and the effects of attendance on a student’s grades and overall success, educational institutions can then pinpoint the causes of chronic truancy and create a plan to combat these variables.

The NYC Interagency Task Force, which began in 2010, used dashboards to develop early warning flags for chronic truancy. They also initiated a plan, which included an effective mentoring program, as well as promotions for the awareness of chronic truancy. Students in these task force schools “significantly and consistently outperformed comparison schools in reducing chronic truancy.” This was especially true for students in poverty, making them 15% less likely to be chronically absent than students at similar schools.

District Wide Decisions
A useful way to gauge a student’s chances of succeeding at an educational institution is to consider the success rate of that school’s previous and current students.

Utilizing our flexible dashboard software, we can display data from multiple sources, including enrollment, assessment scores and detentions. This gives administrators a high-level, strategic view, allowing for better, more informed decisions. As such, educational professionals can use this data as a benchmark, finding schools that are succeeding and then emulating their practices to achieve the best results.

Dashboards can also be used externally for board of directors, parents and the community. With an increased focus on transparency for budget, student assessment and school site performance, public facing dashboards are becoming more popular amongst districts to demonstrate student success.

High Level Insights for Higher Education
There are many facets to the operation of any college or university. Every department, from admissions to finances to facilities, has a unique set of goals, challenges and KPIs. With so many data sources and so many moving parts, visualization is key to ensuring that administrators understand the big picture.

With self-service dashboards, administrators can view the dashboards that pertain to them on their desktops, access them from anywhere on any device and receive alerts when thresholds are crossed directly to their mobile devices or email.

Our education dashboard software is providing universities and school districts around the country with the key to unlocking better insights from information. Student success dashboards help provide digestible tracking of important metrics such as enrollment, retention and graduation rates. Facilities dashboards can give operations personnel real-time reporting on energy consumption, building utilization and maintenance costs.

The implementation of data visualization techniques in the education industry can be a big step forward in addressing the myriad of challenges facing schools across the country. When it comes to developing the minds and skills of the next generation, can we really afford not to make the best decisions we can?

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Generational Differences in Business Intelligence Interest

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Organizations are beginning to access the power of business intelligence, especially in the areas of marketing, sales and logistics. As more and more data is collected, shared and used to target the individual, a divide is forming between the generation that wants to use big data and the generation that actually has the power to make it happen.

While retirement is approaching for Baby Boomers, they are still earning, on average, higher salaries than Millennials. Baby Boomers are also more likely to hold management positions within their companies, which is partially due to the fact that they’ve been in the professional world for a greater amount of time.

Meanwhile, Millennials are taking their first steps into the workforce, and statistically speaking, they’re more likely to have student loans and a permanent spot on their parents’ fold-out couch.

Stephen J. Dubner, journalist for The New York Times and co-author of “Freakonomics,” believes that big data is the way of the future, but he’s worried that society might not be ready for it yet.

“Even if you could tell me,” says Dubner, “the most foolproof strategic way to reach a decision…or the best set of numbers to embrace, there might be a lot of good reasons why you won’t be successful.”

His thought process is largely based on the idea that people, especially Baby Boomers, are more likely to hold onto previous biases or experiences than follow statistically-proven truths.

“(Baby Boomers) have set beliefs and ways of approaching problems and decisions,” says Dubner. “For years, ‘data’ was talked about, and maybe embraced at some places, but ‘gut’ could almost always beat it out.”

Millennials, on the other hand, have been living hand-in-hand with big data and data visualization. According to “Strategic Data-Based Wisdom in the Big Data Era,” by John Girard, Deanna Klein and Kristi Berg, Millennials are “willing to compromise the privacy and security of their personal information for the ability to network with peers, acquire data at a moment’s notice, and market products and/or themselves.”

Not only do they have a tolerance for business intelligence, they want to use it in their business models. Therefore the importance and use of data visualization techniques, like dashboards, will likely increase as Millennials grow as a proportion in the workplace. It’s a safe bet considering how prevalent and accessible large sets of data will become in an increasingly digital world.

Boomers can learn from the Millennials who want to make decisions based on the data and expect the data to be instantly available. Millennials can also learn from the Boomers whose experience helps decipher what the data is really saying. The two generations can truly benefit from each other and use visual tools and dashboards that make the data understandable and help provide a foundation that will bridge the great divide.

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Real-Time BI vs. Right Time BI

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We all make thousands of decisions every day: Chocolate or vanilla? T-shirt or sweater? Rent vs. buy? Real-time business intelligence (BI) vs. right time business intelligence (BI)?

Okay, the last question isn’t one most people face on a daily basis. While some decisions can be made quickly based on personal preference, the weather or economic factors, the more complex the question the more complex the decision-making process becomes.

This brings me back to the question of “Real-Time BI vs. Right Time BI.”

Nearly every organization collects and stores a lot of big data in different systems around their organization. However, data (real-time or not) is only valuable if it helps improve the quality of an organization’s decisions. I believe that the real conversation should be “How can real-time data better drive right time decisions?”

The speed with which companies can access and act upon information has become necessary in today’s data-driven world of business. Even with an incredible sense of urgency, real-time decision-making is being held up due to standard operating procedures and status quo.

So, what’s the advantage of a decision made with real-time data if the decision is made days or weeks later? What good is real-time information if it isn’t in the hands of the right decision-makers?

These are the kinds of questions that executives are currently wrestling with and the answer is found by implementing right time decision-making: Providing the right information to the right decision makers at the right time.

It isn’t just about having data at your fingertips, but having real-time data at the right time, and doing so in an easy-to-understand format. This allows business managers to make better decisions, which improve overall business performance.

The ability to harness right time data will ultimately lead to timely insights, smarter decisions, better plans and more empowered workers.

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The Defining Qualities of a Successfully Smart Dashboard

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In the age of big data, smart TVs and smartphones, general consumers are inundated with more data than ever before – they deserve smart dashboards.

A large number of organizations have implemented dashboards during the past few years. However, many of those dashboard implementations have either failed or been only moderately successful because they are little more than a carry-over of a portal interface from the late 1990s. The user-adoption of dashboards is largely driven by the visual-interactivity and user-experience with the dashboard interface. So, it’s no different than the user-adoption of any other gadget that hits a critical mass adoption – phones and tablets being recent examples of those.

Taking inspiration from a smart TV and smartphone, these are the defining qualities of a smart dashboard:

Smart Interactivity – A smart dashboard should be more than the sum of its parts. Most dashboard solutions are a little more than a collection of disparate charts and tables. For techies, they are simply a set of portlets within a portal. However, to qualify for smart interactivity, a dashboard must display interactivity among its various display elements. It should be able to detect commonality of information and help users visually see common elements on the dashboard. The various portions of the dashboard should blend in as a unified presentation. View an example here.

Smart Drilldown – A dashboard drilldown should be more than a hyperlink that transports the user to another destination. When a chart or gauge on a dashboard serves as a link to another tab or window, the user instantly loses the visual context of the original inquiry. That link becomes just another webpage rather than part of a dashboard. A smart drilldown should allow the user to filter down their data, while maintaining the context of original data point that is clicked on. The destination is presented within the same frame as the origination widget or chart without displacing the rest of the dashboard. There must be a natural filtering of information depending upon which data point (or data row) the user-clicked on within a chart or data table. View an example here.

Smart Reports – A dashboard should not be a mere launching point for reports or worse, a collection of reports displayed in small separate windows. A smart dashboard must be inherently capable of turning its graphical displays into a traditional report format with one simple click of a mouse. In doing so, it can treat dashboards and reports as two sides of the same coin rather than treating them as separate currencies. Such reports should be able to apply data filters and user-security precisely as in the dashboard when that instant transformation occurs between a dashboard and report. View an example here (click on report icon in the bottom right of the dashboard).

Smart Analytics – A smart dashboard should have analytical capability easily comprehended and wielded by any non-technical user. Such analytics interfaces should mask the underlying complexity, and still produce powerful results. An example would be utilizing simple slider-based what-if analytics. Much like a smartphone, the most sophisticated of technologies should be presented intuitively enough to be operated by a 10-year old, if not younger. View an example of a what-if analytics in a smart dashboard.

Smart Infographics – A smart dashboard should extend beyond static images. Infographics are a powerful depiction of information in an easy to comprehend graphical style. A smart infographic takes it further – it can embed intelligence within an image, so that each portion of the image comes alive with user interaction and conveys information specific to the area of the image. View an example here for a smart infographic of a stadium.

Smart Displays – A smart dashboard should be able to carry a consistent visual experience across a range of display devices – a 50” LCD, a 14” laptop, a 9” tablet or a 5” smartphone. Much like our everyday interaction seamlessly changes between displays as we move from our office desk to a client meeting, a smart dashboard should be responsive and adjust its display proportion and deliver a consistent user-experience. A user should be able to shift their display devices (laptop to tablet to phone) without the need to re-comprehend the dashboard visuals. View an example here (visualize on your desktop or laptop, tablet and phone).

Dashboards hold a great promise in transforming corporate cultures. They can deliver real-time performance feedback, transparency and accountability. But first, they need to be widely adopted throughout an organization. And for that to happen, dashboards need to deliver a delightful user-experience, much like a smartphone does to make it the most heavily-adopted gadget for the masses.

If you implemented a dashboard solution that didn’t get an enthusiastic user-adoption, maybe it’s time to explore an upgrade to a smart dashboard platform. Many companies that adopted dashboard software as a part of a complex BI software implementation are using a technology platform that is potentially more than 10 years old. It’s older than the first flip-phone that you used!

Now compare that technology lifecycle with a smartphone lifecycle – the first generation iPhone was introduced in 2007 and within eight years, it is in its sixth generation. In each of its releases, the iPhone has made quantum improvements to its user experience.

The big question that must be asked – have your corporate dashboards kept up with the speed of innovation and improvement of the user-experience that it takes to reach mass adoption.

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