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Code Red

The cover of the March 10, 2014 issue of the TIME magazine was called “Code Red”. The cover story announces: “How an unlikely group of high-tech wizards revived President Obama’s troubled HealthCare.gov website.” As the topic, Affordable Care Act or Obamacare is very controversial in this country, I want to point out that this blog is not about the merits of this new law. It is about one certain aspect in particular that was critical in this successful “rescue mission.”

Well, you might have already guessed it, one of the first things that those high-tech wizards did to determine what kind of problems they are dealing with was to create a dashboard. “Among many jaw-dropping aspects of what we found, as one put it – was that the people running HealthCare.gov had no dashboard.” When the website was launched, nobody knew how many people were using the site, the response times for various click-throughs were unknown and it was not clear where the traffic was getting tied up. I don’t know about you, but those are the things that I would like to know if I were to launch my own website. One more thing worth mentioning is that those tech wizards built a dashboard in about 5 hours.

Of course there were other mechanisms put in place for this rescue mission, but a dashboard was put in place right away and was an essential part of recognizing the scope of the problems. Based on the dashboard, the high tech wizards could make a decision about whether the website could be fixed or not. We all know at the end the website was improved to a point where millions of people were able sign up for health insurance.

You probably agree with me that for a project of this magnitude, a dashboard is vital to the success of the project. But, what about other projects that are smaller in size? We live in an era where there is an overload of data and the best way of “slicing and dicing” data is with visualization tools. So my argument is no matter what size of the project, dashboards can help you to get a high level of understanding your data very quickly and, as pointed out in the example above, dashboards can help you pinpoint problems in a very dynamic way.

By the way, I am pretty sure that with the right tool, those tech wizards could have created that dashboard in half of the time. 

Aziz Sanal – Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Back to Basics

The more I talk to people about anything Business Intelligence, the more buzz words I get to hear e.g. Big Data, Prescriptive Analytics, Hadoop, YARN, Pig, etc. For most SMBs that I talk to, however, (humbly putting) these terms are more just buzz words. Don’t get me wrong, the innovation needs to happen and is happening. Go to any BI (Business Intelligence) event in the country and you will see the signs of innovation. However, you may also notice that basic topics like BI adoption, BI project success criteria, BI project anatomy and proactive performance management are a regular part of the event. What does this tell us? With the continuous and fast changes in technology, these basic things still need attention and priority, and that is where I wanted to bring the focus to.

The techies may seem very enthusiastic as to what technology can do for the business. And vice-versa business people may seem very excited about implementing new technology. It is something and someone in between that could bring the business vision and the technology together. Project managers play an important role in this regard, unfortunately it is an overlooked area. People might take shortcuts and it may cost organizations lot more in the long run.

 As BI becomes more and more available to every level in the organization and to the masses, the need to focus on the core deliverables becomes more important. When I talk to these organizations I still hear that simple reports, analytics, dashboards and other basic BI deliverables still remain challenges to implement and to maintain. There is alot of help available in the market to tackle these basic needs. There are more agile, robust, dynamic, easy-to-use tools available that can be utilized to help achieve the goals.

Let’s commit to better BI foundation. Let’s evaluate where we are and what our basic core goals, and build from there. Shall we?

Zahid Ansari – Pre-Sales Manager, iDashboards

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Limitations: Misunderstood

Limits can be subject to mathematic calculations, sequence, function, time, space, speed, weight, age, scientific, engineering, legal, technical, language, emotional…

Some limitations are subject to personal or technical capability, such as earning potential or hard drive space.  Over time, however, these limits have the potential to increase, and for different reasons!  Most limits related to technology evolve over time and increase at a staggering rate.  Remember the early hard drives and RAM specifications?  Year over year it made sense to develop new technology to sustain the growth for faster and larger computers.

Some limits don’t need to increase over time.  For example, since being a teenager, I continue to buy cars with higher maximum speed limits.  But the roads I drive on continue to post the same speed limit.  Therefore, my car has a different maximum speed limit compared to the roads where I drive (contrary to my desire to drive faster).  I also have a desire to limit my weight gain, which doesn’t need to increase over time.

I think it is important to understand there are different types of limits.  When I think about limits, I realize that some can change and some cannot, or should not.  It takes some research and understanding to learn about limits before a conclusion can be developed.

There are endless types of limitations.  My goal is to discuss a specifically defined limitation within an iDashboards chart.  It is really more of a helpful visual aide and not a limitation.  Regular charts within iDashboards have a 1,000 row limit, and pivot charts have a 3,000 row limit.  There, I said it.  Phew.  During the development of iDashboards, we have purposely defined these limitations.  Let me further explain the limitation.  An iDashboards chart will query your data source (Excel, SQL, database, other…) and collect a result set.  The chart has a row limitation on the result set, not the data source.  iDashboards does not have a limit on how much data can be queried in your data source.

For example, imagine you have data with 1-million rows.  During the chart creation process, you set up the query to obtain ‘The total sales for all products’.  Because you have 4 products, your result set will return 4-rows.  If you have 103 products then your result set will return 103-rows.  Essentially, we are trying to summarize the information to make it digestible and capable of being presented through graphs and charts.  Therefore, using filters, functions (SUM, AVG, etc.), input parameters, drilldowns or pivots, allows you to specify the exact amount of data.

Because iDashboards is a data visualization technology, we offer visually engaging ways to display a result set.  With iDashboards, each row of the result set is displayed as a column, point, pie-slice, indicator color, image, etc.  Visually speaking, you shouldn’t want to display more than 1,000 rows of data in a chart.  Don’t you agree?  Without a row limitation, there is too much data and the visual purpose becomes unusable.  Most computer screens have a maximum width between 1400-1920 pixels.  Having a Column Chart with more than 1000 columns makes it nearly impossible to distinguish the graphic since each column would be 1x pixel wide.

Here are some references for learning about how to reduce the data in your chart:

If you’re still not convinced a row limitation is useful, here are some pictures.  So, what does 1,000 data points look like within a chart?

A Column Chart with 1,000 columns (aka ‘1,000 rows of data’)

 

A Bar Chart with 1,000 bars (aka ‘1,000 rows of data’)

 

A Scatter Plot Chart with 1,000 points (aka ‘1,000 rows of data’)

 

A Metrics Chart with 1,000 indicators (aka ‘1,000 rows of data’)

 

A Pie Chart with only 72 slices (aka ‘72 rows of data’)

 

Ken Rose – Product Marketing Leader, iDashboards

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What is the Purpose of a Chart?

iDashboards has the most variety of charts in the industry. This can make choosing the right chart a little overwhelming. To help in selecting the best chart, I ask myself, “What story does the chart tell?” In other words, what is the purpose of the chart?

Below is a table suggesting what chart type to use based on the chart’s purpose:

To give credit where due, this table started from the list, Chart Selection Process. I added some recommendations and iDashboards specific chart types to broaden your scope. If you see some chart types you are unfamiliar with, iDashboards OSKAR forum users can download examples here. Otherwise, send a reply below and I’ll provide you some samples.

I hope this helps you get creative with your charts and always create Powerful Insights.

Paul Ligeski – Senior Consultant, iDashboards

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Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty

On my daily commute, after one of Michigan’s most brutal winters, I have the opportunity to encounter multiple pot holes. Those nasty, alignment-altering holes that go deeper and deeper from the surface until they get to the nitty-gritty layer that was once the original surface.

Drilldowns in a dashboard work much in the same way. In a drilldown, you are moving from one layer to another, ultimately working your way down to the nitty-gritty information you are looking for.

In creating a successful drilldown, there are a number of things to consider.

Start with the source chart for your drilldown. Let’s say we start with a column chart showing sales figures tallied by country. When designing the drilldown target, which will show Sales by City for the selected Country on the source chart, I will start with the original source chart side-by-side, because I will use many components of the source chart for the drilldown target.

In what will be the target chart, I right click, choose Chart Data and Cut and Paste my original x-axis as a new y-Axis label. I will use this label copied to the clipboard again shortly. I now put in my new x=axis label of City, as shown in Image 1.

 

With the new x-Axis, it is a quick trip through my data source connections (assuming we’re working from one data source) to the point where I now map my new x-axis to City and my newly created y-Axis to Country. I also now create a pivot on Country as shown in Image 2.

 

 

Once the target chart is created I like to change the chart to differentiate it from the source to give the visual appearance of change. This chart will ultimately be a chart filtered by City for the selection made at the Country level.

 


At this point I save the new chart by right clicking and choosing Save Chart As to choose the new chart name. I save the chart with a Sales by City name, and make the chart title Sales by City from ${value:Country} (this is where I can paste the filtering selection from my original cutting of the x-axis label from earlier). That label from the pivoted y-axis needs to match the Value Macro in order for it to work in the title of the target chart.

The final step in creating the filtered drilldown is to go into the Chart Properties on the source chart and choose the Drilldown tab and the Drilldown to Chart option from that tab. See Image 4.

 

 

Note the simplicity of creating a drilldown. The application understands which axis values need to be sent to the target chart automatically. The x-axis of Country is automatically selected when the drilldown is chosen.

Now, when the chart is saved and the drilldown selection is made, the target chart appears and is filtered for the selection that is made (Image 5). Also, note that the Country label is shown in the title, so we know which country we selected by looking at the filtered chart.

 

 

At this point we can do one more level of filtering to get to our granular details of knowing how many units have been sold per city (the nitty-gritty details!).

 

 

We see that again in the chart title, we’ve pulled in the selected values for both Country and City. This has been accomplished by using the following syntax in the chart title – Units Sold  – ${value:Country}, ${value:City}.

It’s no surprise that drilldowns are invaluable in the world of iDashboards. This was after all only one of the many type of drilldowns available. It’s a matter of how you want to show your filtered metric. We could have just as easily set up a drilldown to a dashboard, to a report, or to a website. It all depends on how you wish to see the nitty-gritty details of your data.

Jerry Stowe -Senior Technical Consultant

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Advanced Filtering Technique

In this blog, you will learn an advanced filtering technique with the ‘Data Source Column’ method.

Image 1 below shows a sales dashboard with 5 input parameters as follows:

• Start Date
• End Date
• Product Line 1
• Product Line 2
• Product Line 3

The three controls for Product Lines allow a user to either select ‘ALL’ in the first, or up to 3 distinct values to filter the dashboard. If you are a well experienced iDashboards user, you may notice a typical roadblock here, “how can I have an ‘and’ as well as an ‘or’ operator in the ‘WHERE’ clause using the data source column method?”

Image 1

The standard method when creating input parameters for filtering purposes is that each input parameter results in one filter referencing that input parameter. So, assuming this to be true and knowing that each of the charts on this dashboard have 5 parameters, we can conclude that there are at least 5 filters.

Image 2 shows our list of input parameters on the charts, but if we take a look at the filters, we would expect to see at least 5 filters including the 5 for the input parameters.


Image 2

In looking at Image 3, this is not the case. Rather, there is only one filter which includes reference to each on the 5 input parameters. The ‘Filter’ interface is simply used to create the ‘WHERE’ clause in the SQL Query that iDashboards is configuring for the chart. What this means is that you can simply use one filter to configure more complex filter criteria than simply creating a unique filter for each input parameter and also can combine ‘And’ as well as ‘Or’ operators without needing to use custom SQL.

Image 3

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Foreclosing on Past Due Reporting

In a time of fast membership growth and even faster growing regulations, it’s more important now than ever for credit unions to get a handle on their KPIs and metrics. With dashboards, understanding KPIs and metrics is far faster and easier than with traditional reporting.

By turning standard row and column reporting structures to visualized dashboards credit unions are able to:
• Eliminate / Greatly reduce hours currently spent generating and formatting reports
• See trends
• Identify outliers
• Understand relationships in data

Dashboards have been a key resource for credit unions for years, allowing them to better understand the key metrics driving their organizations, including, but not limited to:
• Collections
• Members per county/state
• Member retention rates
• Employee performance
• Call centers
• Branch scorecards

Branch Scorecard
Branch scorecards have proven very effective at helping credit unions decide which regions have the best opportunities when times are good and which branches are under-performing in bad times.



Financial Drivers

By visualizing the financial drivers, credit unions can help board members who aren’t familiar with standard accounting practices and finance understand these concepts and how they impact performance of the credit union.

Michael Soave- Sales Manager, iDashboards

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Quick Tip: Matching Colors = Effective Branding

The little things are often what matter most.  Things such as adding a company logo to your dashboard and branding it as your own – but why stop there?  By applying corporate colors, logo colors, or colors from other sections of your website, you are able to improve your dashboard branding. 

Most modern browsers include “web developer tools”, and (perhaps surprisingly) Microsoft Internet Explorer* has a built-in color picker.  When activated, the color picker shows the exact colors in use in different parts of a webpage.

Here’s an Easy Tip for Copying a Color from a Website – Let’s Get Started

  • Open Internet Explorer
  • Click on Tools -> Developer Tools
  • Select Tools -> Color Picker from the next screen. 
  • The color picker tool appears and, as you move your mouse cursor around, the color of the underlying item is shown as both RGB and hexadecimal values. 
  • Click on the “copy and close” button to copy the hexadecimal value to your clipboard and close the color picker. 
  • Paste the color code into iDashboards and voilà – you have the exact color from your website! 
  • Save the color to your iDashboards personal or enterprise-wide color palettes for easy access next time.

Matching colors this way is quick and easy.  The smallest changes to your charts and dashboards can go a long way toward improving the user experience.  Here is a screenshot of the process in more detail:

How to Match Colors Exactly

* The color picker tool was removed from Internet Explorer 11.  Similar functionality can be added to other browsers through downloadable add-ons or extensions.

Warren Singh – Senior Consultant, iDashboards

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Tom, Technology Ignores Us

Recently I had the pleasure of hosting our local Hospitality Financial and Technology Professionals (HFTP) chapter at iDashboards’ world HQ for a symposium of sorts. Most members in this chapter are Controllers at local country clubs, so the purpose of our conversation was to discuss the use of dashboards within the club setting. This arose out of a complaint I had frequently heard from chapter members: “Tom, technology ignores us”.

They’re right.

In the traditional scheme of things, the biggest technology vendors playing in the club space (or small businesses of 100 different varieties) have traditionally been smaller organizations catering only to that setting. In one sense, this is good, because it means the players in this space have a history in the space. But in another sense, this has been detrimental – severely detrimental – to progress in this space.

Right, Tom, so what’s your point?

My point is this: the big players in the Business Intelligence world – those with the funds to push through stunning developments and advancements – have ignored these spaces because traditionally, any Business Intelligence (BI) rollout required a strong IT backing.
But what if it didn’t have to be that way?

Even if you don’t have a robust IT team (as with many clubs and small businesses) you still have data, and a lack of IT doesn’t mean you don’t have a need for good BI. After all, the purpose of good BI is to take data (for which no one is lacking) and turn that data into information.

Whether you have 5 or 500 employees, your need to leverage data in the day-to-day operations is present. In fact, you could easily argue that the smaller an organization, the more crucial it is to make the right decisions. Without data – no – without information, that can’t be done effectively.

Let’s do dashboards without IT. Let’s take your sales figures; labor and payroll; membership stats; and more, and turn that into a dashboard. In the past, the complaint may have been that it wasn’t affordable, or that the expertise didn’t exist within the staff to handle such an implementation, but it’s 2014.

Our answer: do it without IT. Do it within your budget. Do it right.

Take the data you have sitting out in the ether in numerous Excel spreadsheets, point of sales systems, or other programs and turn that into business intelligence. By leveraging Excel as a “database” of sorts, you can take our patented no-programming tool and turn those spreadsheets into dashboards. You can take the data you have and efficiently convert that into information (and, might I add, automate most of your reporting process to save you time and money). All at the hands of, no, not a programmer, but your controller, your GM, your administrative assistant. Drag and drop or point and click. Then get on to running your club or small business.

Tom Butler – Hospitality Specialist, iDashboards

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The Best Questions are the Right Questions

When asked to think about results almost all of us want to think of doing well, we want to think of the success we’ve had in producing the results others are looking for whether it’s our employers, families, or even just those we meet casually through social interaction.  In most cases results are who we are, they tell the story of how well, or not, we tend to get a job done.  Often times though, I’ve come to realize results are subjective and their conveyance is all too subject to how the story is told.  Take interviewing as an example; ask a candidate how they are result driven and they’ll roll out a laundry list of accomplishments presumably to be taken at their word.  Take a moment to ask a few questions about each accomplishment, and maybe you’ll find their story doesn’t quite jive.

The same can be said for managing results in one’s business as well.  Although we all strive for positive performance and an opportunity to show growth and success, the data may not point to that, and we may not even know it not having not asked any of the right questions. So to keep this one short and sweet, hopefully having proved my point quickly, we shouldn’t just take what we’re given at face value.  The best of the best, ask the best questions.  It’s our job and our responsibility to ask the right questions, to be creative, and find the unique answers and the truth in the story we’re being told.

Jason Wolan – Professional Service Manager, iDashboards

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