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Not Just for Closets – Organizing Dashboard Charts

Everybody can appreciate ‘less complicated’ sometimes. An easy-to-use Business Intelligence tool that enables you to create charts and dashboards very quickly should be no exception – and is not an exception with iDashboards

With that in mind, one part of keeping charts organized is to have a good chart naming system and overall goals. Within iDashboards, charts and dashboards are saved into so-called categories (folders), allowing you to put charts and dashboards into logical “buckets.” Even though the charts and dashboards are saved separately, they are linked together within the iDashboards repository database. So in the iDashboards system, you could have saved a lot of charts within a certain category (see below image):

The charts shown above are sorted in alphabetical ascending order, but there is no indication to what dashboard(s) the charts in the category “Not Organized” belong to.

My suggestion is to add a prefix to the chart name to show what dashboard(s) the charts are linked to. In the example below, I used a string of seven characters (three letters, a number, a space, a dash and another space) to indicate the dashboard name. With a prefix added to the chart name, charts with the same prefix are now sorted together, as shown below for the category “Organized.”

You have also the ability to search by prefix, as seen below, allowing you to easily find all the charts in a dashboard.

We aim for simple and this idea is easy to implement, helping to better organize the charts within the iDashboards system.

Aziz Sanal – Sr. Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Dashboarding Through the “Fog of DATA War”

I apologize in advance for this total ‘blog geek out’ about to happen, but bear with me – there is an analogy and purpose. If you’ve ever played any type of RTS or Strategy PC game in the past couple decades, you might be familiar with the term ‘Fog of War.’*If you’re not familiar, let me explain. In the PC gaming world, this essentially represents the part of the screen, dungeon, cosmic empire, etc. that you can’t see. The information is out there, but you just can’t see it yet. In the video game world, most of that information tells us essentially where the bad guys (and sometimes good guys) and your special resources are.

Businesses across the world, big and small, are collecting a lot of data. They have information funneling in from CRM, Accounting Applications, Marketing, Point of Sale systems and numerous other sources and reports. It is good news that we have a lot of data out there, data that we can use to make those immediate adjustments to improve our processes and ultimately our objectives and goals. What are we going to access all of this information with? How do we cut through the “Fog of *Data* War” and see what’s truly out there?

We have reports and resources that can tell us what’s going on in any given area of business, but let’s not kid ourselves – when you take into account that the average executive (and by that I mean the person who can respond and make the appropriate changes based on this massive amount of information) works roughly fourteen hours per day, how many more hours can he or she dedicate to sifting through multiple reports and spreadsheets? You’re never going to see the whole landscape when you track a bit here and there no matter how hard you try (back to the Fog of War metaphor). Sometimes you can spend an entire game searching for that threat or resource or you can cheat, turn off the Fog of War and focus your energy on that particular area. Businesses both big and small do a lot of work sifting through multiple reports, searching for that ‘special something’ or breakdown in structure. Sometimes, we catch a crisis early because we’re savvy and lucky. Sometimes, we don’t put out the proverbial fire in time and end up having to fight a (data) fire.

There’s a way cut through the (data) fog though – hooray for technology! Call it dashboards or data visualization; ultimately, it is a tool to easily see what you do not see every day. It is a way to immediately recognize that resource or threat before it goes away or potentially hurts your business. When you’re playing a video game, exploring the unknown and facing new threats from outside worlds can be all kinds of fun. In the real world, it is aggravating and many times, costly. So turn off the ‘fog,’ see your entire landscape and take action swiftly – dashboard through your data fog. Be the hero. Always get to the next level.

 

*The original term can be attributed to military theorist Carl von Clausewitz -War is an area of uncertainty; three quarters of the things on which all action in War is based are lying in a fog of uncertainty to a greater or lesser extent. The first thing (needed) here is a fine, piercing mind, to feel out the truth with the measure of its judgment…

Dylan Johnston – Account Manager, Cloud Sales, iDashboards

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Practice What You ‘Product Preach’: How iDashboards Uses iDashboards

After our highly successful Users Conference in Nashville last month, I am just in awe at all of the incredible ideas and purposes our customers have for iDashboards. Our customers have such creative and innovative ideas on how to best visualize their data, how to use iDashboards to tell real stories. The customer panels were phenomenal! Sharing ideas and seeing how creative people can be on the visual side of things is great, but when you hear that organizations or institutions are using iDashboards to make decisions that save them millions of dollars – that is remarkable!

In that same spirit of sharing, I thought I would share how iDashboards uses iDashboards.

At iDashboards, we use our product in multiple ways – lobby dashboards, sales performance dashboards, marketing dashboards and technical services metric dashboards. We also integrate with our phone system, Google Analytics and Salesforce to display metrics throughout the office. Regardless of the dashboard, each provides insight and purpose.

In our lobby, we have a large LCD monitor cycling through a number of dashboards that portray our company – people, customers and recognitions. It has become part of the iDashboards culture to have new employees introduced through a dashboard of information, pictures and an Image Plot chart of the office showing where new employees sit (see below).

Also using our Image Plot chart type, we have a large US Map showing our customers’ location. Anyone can look at that dashboard and see where our greatest concentration of customers are located.

Occasionally, it is likely that new dashboards with current activities also become part of the sequence of dashboards in the lobby. For example, our very recent Users Conference had a dashboard displaying registration details, as well as a countdown clock to the event.

In the lobby, we also have a few Sales Performance dashboards, and more specifically, the top performers. These dashboards provide both recognition to the top performers and motivation to others, supporting colleagues and the company overall.

Our lobby allows us to broadcast information to the masses, connecting the company to the ‘outside world.’ More importantly, though, they communicate successes and recognize top performers in a visual manner. It’s not always what you say – in this case, it’s how you SHOW it.

Those lobby dashboards are only one example of the approach we take with using iDashboards internally though. As I walk the halls at the iDashboards offices, there are a number of LCDs on the walls showing departmental dashboard metrics. These displays are showing live call metrics for our Sales teams and are tied directly to the phone system database. These set of dashboards allow all to see how many calls they are making, call duration and how they are performing in comparison to their peers.

A similar dashboard exists for monthly number of calls and the average call duration over the last 30 days. From these dashboards, it becomes easier to see not only who is making the most calls, but also what time of the day the most successful calls are taking place.

Other dashboards are built for departmental contests, territory coverage maps and customer licensing, whether active or inactive. Secure access is given to these departmental dashboards to allow our account managers to see a focused list of their customers and help them understand how they are performing as an individual or as part of the larger team.

Our technical services and support teams also have their own dashboards, tracking customer satisfaction, support tickets and type of activities being performed by technical resources over time, using input parameters to filter on time range, type of activity and technical resource.

As you can probably tell by now, at iDashboards we track nearly everything using iDashboards – we practice what we ‘product preach’ (I didn’t even talk about the dashboard developed to track what is the most cost-effective way to provide coffee to the masses!). Each department, each person at iDashboards will somehow utilize our internal dashboards daily, and we are proud of that.

How does your organization utilize iDashboards internally? Please add a comment and share your story!

Jerry Stowe – Sr. Systems Consultant, iDashboards

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“Visual Intelligence” vs. “Business Intelligence”

The difference between making good decisions and bad decisions is the quality of information used when making that decision. In many businesses today, decisions are being made based on data that is old or incomplete because there is no easy way to extrapolate data and communicate the findings in a timely manner.

Dashboards help aggregate data from various sources, display that data in a visual format, communicate the message behind the numbers and encourage action on the information that is presented. The amount of data generated today can be overwhelming. While “Business Intelligence” is a field that tries to make sense of the data, there is often a breakdown when that “intelligence” cannot be communicated in a way that is understandable, or data is stored in systems that fail to interact with each other.

How do we get real time data to stakeholders in a format that is understandable? How do we dig through the data to find outliers that need to be managed? How do we develop Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that are common across the organization and communicated in a way that is understood by all – even when data is compartmentalized? In other words, how do we make Visual Intelligence out of our Business Intelligence? A visual dashboard takes information out of rows and columns and puts the information into charts and graphs that people can understand.

Frank Anscombe, the founding chair of the statistics department at Yale University, illustrated the importance of visualizing data prior to analysis based on research done in the 1970’s. Using four similar data sets, Anscombe developed what is commonly known today as “Anscombe’s Quartet” which shows the effect of “outliers” within the data set when put in to a graphic representation of that data. All four have the same linear progression line, but graph very differently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visual dashboards that take the information from rows and columns and puts it in to a “picture” (or graph) assist businesses in finding disruptive outliers, managing them accordingly. For example, one client was using multiple data sources with no common denominator. Many people reported in Excel spreadsheets, with each department having their own database and their own Enterprise Resource Planning software, with no common reporting tool between the departments. They had no way to measure and monitor KPIs that were common across the organization.

By implementing a visual dashboard, the client was able to integrate their ERP databases and spreadsheets into a single visual format. They can now see common KPI trends, conduct “what if” analyses with those KPIs, ultimately making more informed executive (leadership) decisions because the quality of information is better.

Another client is pulling from their financial software, HR databases, Marketing (Google Analytics), Salesforce.com and other ERP databases, none of which are tied together. Their dashboards give them a complete “picture” of their business for the first time and are updated automatically with real-time data.

Is it possible to communicate these results in a multi-page Excel report of rows and columns? Of course it is; however, a visual dashboard provides an intuitive tool that spots trends, provides analysis and calls for action at a glance. Best of class dashboards are real-time, pull from multiple data sources and provide complete mobility so decisions can be made on the fly.

To avoid drowning in a sea of Business Intelligence (BI), build a dashboard and turn the BI into Visual Intelligence (VI). When your business is able to spot trends and make analyses in an easy-to-use format in real-time, you will make better decisions based on better information that will result in cost savings, clear communication and achieving standardized KPIs across the organization. Now that is intelligence.

Tim Barr – Director of Cloud Sales, iDashboards

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New Features, New Product Fun with v8.5 Release

iDashboards v8.5 is about to be released! New product releases are a big deal when you work at a software development company (around here, we are now saying ‘8.5!’). Many tasks need to be managed, executed and held to a tight timeline. In addition, all employees must be expert product users of the software…at the time of launch.

After having my hands on the ‘beta’ internal version of the software for a few months, I’ve been able to see all the new features get constantly fine-tuned. We have found that the new features are ‘nice,’ some are ‘pretty cool’ and the flagship features are deemed ‘awesome.’ I imagine both existing  and new users of iDashboards will be attracted to different features in the release of v8.5.

As an expert user, I have really become smitten with our new Point-and-Click Chart Designer. The new Chart Designer is a more unified and streamlined experience overall, and more advanced. I am experiencing a dramatic decrease in time when creating charts with this new Chart Designer. For example, it is not unusual for me to build a basic Bar Chart within 10-15 seconds, 20-30 seconds if I need to add filters and 30-60 seconds if the chart also needs to be visually customized (yes, I timed myself). Below is a quick example to show how the new point-and-click Chart Designer can streamline the chart building process.

For new users of iDashboards, I think there will be a natural attraction to our flexible viewing options, capable of delivering dashboards with our traditional Adobe Flash interface or the new HTML5 interface.  iDashboards now has the highest quality HTML5 dashboards on the market, and this is only our first release with HTML. This option will eventually eliminate the need for apps and will certainly allow our mobile users to have a better experience viewing dashboards. Below is a dashboard comparison between the Flash and HTML5 interface.

New or existing users should not ignore what is the most advanced, flexible, creative and custom chart in the dashboard industry: the Image Plot Chart. This is not a traditional analytics chart, but instead a platform for building your own chart by layering dynamic points on any custom image. Now, our users can build their own custom GPS maps, interactive illustrations and more. Below are some examples of what’s possible with the Image Plot Chart.

 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ken Rose – Product Marketing Leader, iDashboards

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Beware of Scale Bias – and Prevent It with Interactive Intelligence

On the road, I often see some amazing dashboard designs. Sometimes when we make charts and graphs though, we combine too much information into one chart. I regularly see charts that have measurements of many items against one X axis. See the chart below for an example of this – the number of people in a city and the amount of rain (in centimeters) the city has had in the last year.

 

 

 

 

We can see that the number of people in the city greatly exceeds the number of centimeters of rain.  When we put this into a chart, it looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Caption: Left out of the rain, it makes it look like these cities are all in arid climates and didn’t receive any rain at all.

The above chart renders the data as it should, and displays the information; however, this chart really does not do a decent job showing if there is a correlation between the amount of rain a city receives and its population. This makes a classic case for a need of the iDashboards Interactive Intelligence feature. I like to tell my course participants that if a scale bias is introduced into the dashboard decision-making process, the consequential choice might be a poor one if the decision-maker sees a chart like this. What would happen if emergency water rationing went into place in a city that was actually experiencing a flood year as a result of this chart?

Instead, we apply chart object recycling, and we can now see the same chart, but with one “Y.”

We took the chart above, and in the middle frame created these charts:

Left: X of City, Y1 of Population (Hidden), Y2 of CM of Rain (Hidden) Y3: an expression to compute population numbers to rain
Middle: X of City, Y1 of Population
Right: X of City, Y1 of Rain in CM

Now this dashboard tells a story! We can see that even though Denver received the least amount of rain, it also has the highest population, indicating that this city is in real trouble. We can make that correlation somewhat easily by looking at the chart at the right to show rainfall, and the chart at the left that shows us how many people are counting on a single centimeter of rain. A single chart tells facts, but a whole dashboard tells a story.
Dashboard on!

Brad Hines – Sr. Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Before the Browse: Dashboard First Impressions

iDashboards allows organizations to deliver unique experiences to every user – charts and dashboards they get to see and how they can be edited. Too often, though, little thought is given to what users see even before they begin to browse their available dashboards.

A Startup Dashboard is like a user’s homepage – it is the dashboard that is automatically loaded when a user signs in. Since user needs differ, a Startup Dashboard is a personal setting, configured through the User Settings screen.

By setting up a Startup Dashboard, users can save time and clicks, starting their days off more productively. For example, immediately upon login, a CEO could be viewing an Executive Scorecard while an IT Analyst could be focused on Helpdesk Tickets.

What if a user needs to look at three dashboards every morning? There is only one Startup Dashboard, but users can also bookmark dashboards and make use of dashboard launcher panels to have their favorites just a click away.

These are a few different ways to put important metrics in front of the right users faster. What has worked for your organization? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Warren Singh – Sr. Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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A New Way to Drilldown Hierarchies through Input Parameters

As a consultant for iDashboards, I work with customers to help build their dashboard solutions. Along the way, they never cease to surprise me with creative new challenges and ideas for their dashboard designs. During one of my recent trips, I was able to create a new way of drilling down through a client’s hierarchy of data using our “Change Dashboard Parameters” drilldown. In the data, they had pre-calculated aggregate scores assigned to managers throughout the company, with each individual linked to his or her own manager and direct reports through a “parent-child” type data structure. There was a column for each employee’s ID number and a column with his or her manager’s ID number. An organization’s employee structure isn’t always a fixed number of levels from top to bottom, creating a challenge when I tried to use our chart-to-chart drilldown function on this data structure. In this blog, I’ll explain how I overcame this challenge using the drilldown to change dashboard parameters.  **If you would like review how a regular drilldown works, check out Jerry’s post about drilldowns: “Getting Down to the Nitty-Gritty

During my engagement I had data that looked similar to this:

Because this is not the typical data structure we use for drilldowns, I had to think outside the box. I had to create a drilldown structure that could have a varying number of levels. One person reporting to the CEO could have four levels of management under them, while another individual could have ten. Instead of creating ten charts, I was able to create a dashboard that only uses two charts for infinite drilldown capability (it only stops at the end of the hierarchy). This solution contains the following elements:

1. One chart that will drilldown the hierarchy

2. One chart that will drill back up

3. A dashboard input parameter for filtering on the “parent” value

Here is an example of a dashboard built with the sample data containing these elements:

 

In chart #1, I have used the input parameter to filter the information where the “Manager Name” column in my data is equal to the Manager selected in the input parameter. My X-axis uses the “Name” column for its values; therefore, I am showing the scores of the direct reports for the selected manager.  I set my x-axis label to “Manager” because the x-axis label must match the name of the input parameter in order for the drilldown work. So if I click on the CFO, I will drilldown to see the positions that report to the CFO.

In chart #2, I used the ViFrame chart type to display text showing who the selected manager reports to. This is the chart that will take us back to the previous manager after we have drilled down. I still use the input parameter as a filter, but this time I filter on the “Name” column instead of the “Manager Name” column in my data. For my X and Y labels, the axis labeled “Manager” is now mapped to the “Manager Name” column.

The chart labeled #4 is not part of the drilldown, but an extra chart I created so that I could still see the information about the manager I selected. It is built exactly like chart #1, but I filtered it the same way as chart #2. You can see my input parameter placed at the top of my dashboard, so I can skip down the list without drilling if I choose to. Whenever I click in chart #1 or #2, it will place their value into the input parameter and change its own filtering, creating a sort-of circular logic. After creating your charts, you only have to set up the drilldown by going to the Chart Properties and selecting the drill down:

If everything has been set up correctly, then congratulations! You should now be able to drill up and down your data:

This technique works for ANY kind of data hierarchy you have where you varying levels of detail.  Maybe instead of a corporate structure, you may be dealing with Regions and varying levels of sub-regions. The possibilities are limitless.

Just remember – the data must be formatted in a “parent-child” format similar to my sample data above. As a general rule, most – if not all – aggregation that your data may need (sums, averages) will have to be done ahead of time at the data source, depending on your desired results.

I hope this has been a helpful and informative article for you. Now go, take this technique and see what kinds of new powerful insights you can find.

Alex Stark – Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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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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