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Data ≠ Wisdom

“Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.” – Clifford Stoll, famous author and astronomer

So what’s the trick? How do we turn data into information and ultimately into wisdom?

We could collect as much data as possible and load it into spreadsheets, but then what? It’s astonishing how easily accessible our data is yet, the relevant information is often overlooked. Have you ever heard the phrase “work smarter, not harder”? Well, that’s exactly what we want to do with our data. We don’t need to waste our time monitoring every indicator, rather we should focus on the essential metrics that affect our performance, quality and profitability.

Storyboarding is a great way to break down your key performance indicators (KPIs) and determine what metrics need greater attention. Let’s say you’ve already went through the storyboarding process and your KPIs have been chosen wisely, but the data still doesn’t translate correctly. This could be explained by a disconnect in data sources, outdated reports, data collusion or numerous other factors. A way to resolve these issues is to implement secure dashboards that unify your data into concise interactive dashboards. Color coded spreadsheets can shed some light but dashboards can bring life to flat reports, connect your data sources, and drilldown into specific KPIs to discover correlations enabling wise, informed decisions based off your data.

Check out the Planning your Dashboard Project Whitepaper for more information regarding KPIs, storyboarding and dashboard implementation.

Alicia Sasse- iDashboards

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“Black Swan”

I’m about half way through a book right now called Black Swan, a book that explores the unknown, the uncertain, and the unexpected. I personally find myself fascinated by mankind’s inability to ever fully comprehend the complexity of a situation, not to mention the ramifications of the decisions we make. It’s an odd concept to step back for a moment and try to think about the results we expect never take to place. How can we be expected to know the unknown, expect the unexpected?

It’s almost an oxymoron, except that often times it’s our own fault. Failure can’t be placed entirely on the inability; we have to start accepting that a lot of what we don’t know is our own fault, our own inability to spend the time and resources analyzing the less obvious. Its not as if we begin things expecting catastrophic events to transpire; wars to erupt, businesses to file for bankruptcy; yet these are issues our civilization has dealt with throughout history and we still choose to assume it’s not going to happen again, not going to last, or at the least be different this time.

Surely there have to be signs in the world, signs we’re ignoring, things we aren’t paying attention to. While we’re busy paying statisticians to conduct polls or collect sample data sets and studying the obvious, we’re also busy ignoring the outliers and casting aside the statistically improbable; the numbers tell us the odds are not in their favor. Yet every catastrophic event could likely be tied to some analysis somewhere that stated that event was an outlier and had little merit, if any. Working in the Business Intelligence space, where quite literally people are trying to anticipate results, has provided a unique opportunity to weigh the “Black Swan” against exactly what it is myself, and our customers are trying to accomplish.

This narrative simply put, is an opportunity to make you think. Not about the obvious, certainly not about which software to buy or what decision to make next but instead to think about what you aren’t thinking about. Take into account the unexpected for a moment, look at something you wouldn’t have otherwise given a second thought to; perhaps the recognition isn’t the same for averting a disaster no one ever knew about, but in the end what’s better, disaster with recognition for repair OR the silent truth of knowing you saw what no one else did and got it right when it really counted?

Jason Wolan- Professional Services Manager, iDashboards

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“Let’s increase the sales, better serve customers and bring efficiency. Yeah right!”

If you are an executive in today’s ever-changing technology environment, it is likely that you are often faced with questions such as, “How will we stay on point with the strategic plans and keep customers happy? Of course businesses know about the social media buzz, but another popular tool that helps businesses achieve tremendous results is dashboard technology.

Over the past several years, dashboard technology has matured and is ready to serve the market demands. Dashboard technology has been proven to be of immense value with great ROI in various sectors such as Finance, Manufacturing, Government, Healthcare, High Tech and so on.

On my recent engagement with a company, I worked with a marketing department and its executive team. Together, they strategized a plan to increase value for customers, create new ways to engage customers, and strengthen the revenue model with minimal impact on the existing business processes. The team came up with a solution to provide a dashboard to the customers. This dashboard would provide various metrics in an easy to understand format. Customers no longer needed to sift through multiple systems to track various aspects of the business viz. sales, billing, usage, tech support etc.

Simple dashboards for customers provide a differentiator from the competition. The marketing and sales team was able to leverage it by winning new business and greater loyalty from existing customers.

The simplicity of the dashboards brought greater value to their customers. The dashboards not only simplified the overall picture for the customers but it also enforced the internal teams’ procedures to align for the single customer entry point into the system through the dashboard software. Teams are now more aware of the impact of their individual performance in relation to the overall impact.

When the dashboard technology is applied, it can certainly produce results.

Do you think dashboards technology can help your organization?

Zahid Ansari – Principal Consultant, iDashboards

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Going the Extra Mile

It seems like wherever I go on my engagements, my clients are really excited about the fact that they are going to be able to use a “state of the art” dashboard development tool. Typically, an engagement starts out with what is called “knowledge transfer”, which basically means that I show the clients a number of things: how the dashboard building process works, what the available functionalities are (e.g. interactive intelligence and input parameters) and what kind of chart types come with the product. There are also hands-on workshops that give the clients the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the product and deepen their understanding about the product.

Now, depending on the type of engagement, there is usually additional time for dashboard development. The idea here is to storyboard out how the client’s data could be visualized with the product and then to actually build dashboards. In some cases, data is available but there are also instances where the clients have an idea about the metrics, but the data is not ready (e.g. missing database views). In those cases mock data can be used to develop dashboards. This is really not a big issue because once the “real” data sources become available, connecting existing dashboards to those data sources can be done with little effort.

From what I have described so far, it is obvious that there is some effort required by the client during an engagement. The ultimate goal here is to put them into a position where they are able to build dashboards without any further guidance and I can honestly say that goal is reached by the time I leave the client. But what I wanted to point out, though, is the fact that I don’t want the client to be already content with what they have built so far. I don’t want the client to stop there, I want them to “go the extra mile” and explore the different options that the product offers. If time was already invested in understanding the product and building dashboards, why not spend some more time to “perfect” the dashboards? Why not use different colors than the default colors? Why not use different chart types and not always column charts? Why not use available functionalities like interactive intelligence to make the dashboards more interactive? This may very well be the difference between “ordinary dashboards” and “extraordinary dashboards”!

Aziz Sanal – Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Dashboards for HR Professionals: Embrace the Performance Reality

Embrace the performance reality; you have seven minutes to leave a lasting impression.

I think all HR professionals would agree that in today’s business environment, there is an ongoing challenge to transform the perception of the human resources department from a cost center to a strategic partner within their organization’s leadership team. HR is consistently being challenged to increase their impact through metrics to improve the productivity of the organization’s workforce. The human resources’ function can have a significant impact on a business’ day-to-day performance. Business leaders understand this and that measurement is the key to improvement.

In order for any HR professional to be successful in making their functions’ perception transform from a cost center to a partner, it will require them to demonstrate the ROI achieved as a result of their efforts enabling secure buy-in from all parties. They will need to be part “statistician” and part “story teller”. As a “statistician,” they must leverage the vast amount of data sources available to define and measure the HR metrics which align with their organization’s business goals. It’s not surprising that organizational leaders are moving more C-Level executives from finance into HR, based on the need for metrics and the strategic interest to collaborate the two departments. Equally as important, the “story teller” skill set within the HR professional will recognize the need to frame the information into a very simple, easy to consume, format. The leaders at any time can then take a quick pulse on their company’s most important asset – their people.

Compounding this challenge is a rapidly changing technology landscape, ever increasing volumes and complexity of data, and continuously changing business strategies. Since these factors are in a constant state of flux, it is critical to maintain perspective by collaborating outside of your organization to leverage best practices and benefit from others’ experiences. This can lead to greater insight in navigating new technologies, discovering new approaches to managing data, or finding alternatives on the best method of relaying the metrics that matter most to your organization.

Dashboards can serve as an excellent means for HR professionals to report important metrics to their executives in snapshot format with an interactive experience. Dashboards can read like scorecards, providing a graphical representation of the current status as well as historical trends. The power to leverage the forecasting analytic capability of this reporting tool has proven very useful to express the possibilities to leadership in planning for the company’s future success. However, it’s critical not to overlook the importance of the mechanism in delivering these metrics as this will significantly contribute to the elevation of your function as a strategic partner to supply perspective within the organization.

My introduction to this entry, “Embrace the performance reality; you only have seven minutes to leave a lasting impression,”was a result of a takeaway from a book about public speaking written by Susan Weinschenk, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People. During a presentation, a person’s attention span is generally seven minutes. If the audience is not engaged in the topic, the attention span can be even less. It’s not always obvious when an audience’s attention span may be waning. As a presenter, you need to be aware that you are having a very different experience than your audience.

Dashboards provide the “Wow Factor!” when delivering the key HR metrics portion of your story to the audience and allow for flexibility within your presentation. You can deliver short, quick concise bites that can be easily digested by your audience or examined at their convenience with a deeper dive, should they want the full course meal. Dashboards are the preferred muse of HR professionals as they cater to the appetite of any stakeholder within an organization. Aside from their ability to gather information from disparaging data sources and make it readily available in a very user friendly format, the dashboards resonate and command respect. The inherent nature within all of us is to have information on our terms. We all want what we want, in the way that we want it, and more importantly, when we want to have it. Having the discernment to make information readily available to those challenged with the seven minute attention span, and doing so in a way that accommodates the needs your audience, is the key to HR professionals securing their proverbial seat at the strategic partner table.

Michael Carlesimo - Account Manager, iDashboards

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“Oh like dashboards for a car?”

Whenever someone asks me what I do for a living, I begin my response with “I work at a company called iDashboards”. Like clockwork, the canned response is always, “oh like dashboards for a car.” Of course this is not the case. But then again, what the IT world refers to as dashboards and what everyone else does isn’t that far off. A dashboard on a desktop could report on how many sales you’ve reported for the year, how your employees are being utilized or even your inventory turnover. A dashboard in a car reports on the most vital information that is going on in the vehicle; how fast you are going, how fast the engine is revolving, how much fuel you have and even how hot the engine is.

While on one of my many engagements, I rented a 2013 Ford Edge. It’s fast, sleek, sexy, and it even has elements of iDashboards. I know, I was as shocked as you are at the sight of those speedometers, bullets and tabular charts. Then it got me thinking, have dashboards evolved to what we see in the world around us today or has the world evolved into dashboards. Below there are two pictures. The first one is of the Ford Edge that I rented. As you can clearly see, we have four speedometers. Hidden behind the menu there is even a bullet chart that shows our AVG fuel economy.

The second picture is of a dashboard that was created by using the iDashboards software. Do you notice any similarities?

Dashboards and charts are all around us and each day more and more people, businesses and organizations want to visualize their data. Much like a dashboard in a car, those businesses and organizations need to identify their pain points and visualize their data. So to answer your question, “No I don’t work on dashboards that are in a car, but then again . . . I kind of do.”

Brett Karl- Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Dashboards – The Epic Custody Battle

Did you know that charts and dashboards can be exported from one installation of iDashboards (called the source installation) and imported into another installation of iDashboards (called the target installation)? Charts and dashboards are exported to an iDashboards archive file (named with the .idbar extension). This file is then used to import the charts and dashboards. The following diagram illustrates this process.

NOTE: Charts and dashboards that are stored in a “Personal category” cannot be exported because the “Personal category” represents a personal workspace rather than an enterprise-wide workspace.

The importing and exporting of charts and dashboards is managed through the ‘Import/Export’ tab of the “SYSTEM” page of the Administrator Application.

You have the option to select one of the following from the ‘Operation’ dropdown box:

• Manage Global IDs
• Export Charts and Dashboards
• Import Charts and Dashboards

Manage Global IDs (GIDs)

Each chart and dashboard that will be exported and/or imported must be assigned a Global ID (GID). GIDs are enterprise-wide identifiers that are used to identify charts and dashboards across multiple installations of iDashboards. GIDs are not the same as local IDs that are automatically assigned to charts and dashboards. To fully support the import/export functionality, GIDs must also be assigned to categories, data sources and stored procedures that are used by the dashboards and charts you wish to import/export.

By default, GIDs are not assigned automatically. A user with the Admin role must do this via the iDashboards Administrator Application. However, if you choose, you can enable iDashboards to automatically assign GIDs. To enable this functionality, check the ‘Generate Global IDs’ option on the ‘Manage Global Identifiers’ page of the Administrator Application. If iDashboards is configured to generate GIDs automatically, every new data source, stored procedure, picklist, category, dashboard and chart created will simply be assigned the next numeric GID available.

When you select ‘Manage Global IDs’ from the ‘Operation’ dropdown box, you will be presented with a list of iDashboards entity types that can be assigned GIDs. GIDs are managed by selecting the ‘Manage Global IDs’ button next to each entity type.

For example, if you select ‘Manage Global IDs’ for ‘Charts’, you will see a list similar to the following.

Charts are grouped by the category they exist in. If a chart already has a GID, it will be displayed in the ‘Current Global ID’ column. To change or add a GID, enter the unique number in the ‘New Global ID’ column and press the ‘Update’ button. GIDs must be assigned/updated individually. A confirmation message will appear to indicate the GID was updated successfully.

The process for assigning GIDs to data sources, stored procedures, picklists, categories and dashboards is similar to the process for charts.

NOTE: GIDs are assumed to be unique only within an entity type. For example, the same GID cannot be assigned to two different charts but a chart and a dashboard can have the same GID. If there is a GID conflict within an entity type, an error message will appear indicating that GIDs must be unique.

Export Charts and Dashboards

Charts and dashboards (and picklists) may be exported separately and have to meet certain criteria for exportation.

For a chart to be eligible for export, the following conditions must be met:

1. The chart must have been saved under iDashboards version 6 or later.
2. The chart must be assigned a GID.
3. The chart’s data source must be assigned a GID.
4. The category the chart is saved in must be assigned a GID.
5. If the data source for the chart is a stored procedure, the stored procedure must be assigned a GID.
6. If the chart has a drilldown and that drilldown is to be maintained, the chart or dashboard the drilldown points to must adhere to the chart and dashboard export criteria outlined in this section.

For a dashboard to be eligible for export, the following conditions must be met:

1. The dashboard must have been saved under iDashboards 6 or later.
2. The dashboard must be assigned a GID.
3. The category the dashboard is saved in must be assigned a GID.
4. All charts within the dashboard must adhere to the chart export requirements.

When you select ‘Export Charts and Dashboards’ from the ‘Operation’ dropdown box, you will be presented with a list of categories. You should select the categories that contain the dashboards and charts you would like to export. You can then select the dashboards and charts.

Once you’ve selected the desired dashboards and charts and clicked the ‘Export’ button, an iDashboards archive file is created with the exported charts and dashboards. By default, this archive is named idbarchive_yyyymmddhhmmssSSS.idbar, but you have the option to change the name when the file is saved. The name of the archive file may also be changed after it has been created and saved.

Import Charts and Dashboards

Dashboards and charts have to meet certain criteria for importation. For a chart to be eligible for import, the following conditions must be met:

1. There must be a data source in the target installation with the same GID as the one associated with the chart that will be imported.
2. If the chart uses a stored procedure to retrieve its data, the associated data source in the target installation must have a stored procedure with a GID that matches the one associated with the chart. It must also be identical to the stored procedure from the source installation in terms of procedure name, output columns, arguments, etc.

For a dashboard to be eligible for import, the following conditions must be met:

1. The dashboard must have a GID.
2. The category the dashboard is saved in must have a GID.
3. All charts within the dashboard must adhere to the chart import requirements.

When you select ‘Import Charts and Dashboards’ from the ‘Operation’ dropdown box, you will see a ‘Browse’ button that will allow you to browse out to the .idbar file you would like to import. This should be done on the target installation you would like to import into.

The import functionality will create all of the entities from the archive file (charts, dashboards, categories and stored procedures) and assign them a GID that matches the GIDs that were assigned to the entities when they were exported from the source installation. The import function will not create any data sources nor assign any data source GIDs because any data source an imported chart will use should already be created in the target installation (per the chart import criteria explained above).

A list of the charts and dashboards in the archive to be imported will be displayed.

Charts and dashboards will be validated before import. The status of the validation will be displayed on the staging window. If a chart or dashboard is valid for import then the status on the staging window will show ‘OK’ in the status column. If there are any problems importing a chart or dashboard, the staging window will show “Warning” in the status column. Hover over the “Warning” text to see a description of the warning. After hitting the ‘Import’ button a second time, a confirmation message is displayed notifying you of the import of the charts and/or dashboards.

A chart is imported with a given GID. If a chart exists with that GID, then the existing chart within the target installation is replaced with the imported chart. The GID of the chart is retained. If the chart does not exist, then a new chart with that GID is created in the target installation.

Similarly, when a dashboard is imported with a given GID, if a dashboard exists with that GID, the existing dashboard within the target installation will be replaced with the imported dashboard. The GID of the dashboard is retained. If the dashboard does not exist, then a new dashboard with that GID is created in the target installation.

If the name of an entity already exists on the target installation, the imported entity will have its name appended with ‘[x]’ where x is the next sequential number.

NOTE: For an even more detailed description of the import/export process, see the iDashboards Administrator Manual

Matt Crawford- Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Why? Dashboards

Hello, loyal readers. If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, you know that successful dashboard projects must be planned carefully. If you need a refresher, our dashboard storyboarding article explains how to define the What, Who, and When for each metric or chart. There is another important question that I like to ask – and that is “Why?”

I am not a fan of cramming every possible metric into a dashboard. I like to focus on the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) – the metrics that matter the most to my audience and help them make decisions. I know that I only have a certain amount of screen real estate, and my viewers are busy people with short attention spans. Each metric, therefore, has to earn a place in my dashboard, so it better be something really important!

Asking “why?” helps me determine not just what gets reported, but what action to take based on that information. Suppose I have a chart that tells me that my company’s expenses are up 10% over last year. I should look at it and ask, “Why is that important? Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” You see, expenses only tell part of the story. Hopefully the story gets better and income is also way up. In this example, a better metric might be net profit/loss, and the answer to “why?” is because THAT tells me how my business is doing overall. Now I know whether to congratulate someone or yell at them!

As data-driven decision makers, you should never be satisfied with the status quo. Question why each chart is in your dashboard, and understand what your metrics are telling you – and what they are not. Transform your data into more than meets the “why?”

Warren Singh- Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Course Capacity ScoreCard

Determining course capacity for college administrators can be a difficult task. As administrators, we want to ensure that we have an adequate offering for our students, however we also must ensure that we are efficiently utilizing our resources and minimize excess capacity for courses. This can be a difficult balancing act for administrators.

Having the ability to see a dashboard that displays historical capacity metrics by subject and further having the ability to drilldown by subject to course level information can be an extremely effective tool for this planning process.

Image1 below shows an example of a dashboard that allows an administrator to view Utilized Capacity by Subject (Bar Chart), Average Capacity per Section by Subject (Bar Chart), Max Capacity by Subject (Bar Chart), Unused Capacity by Subject (Pareto), Capacity Percentage by Subject (Ticker), and a Target Capacity.

Taking a further look into the Utilized Capacity by Subject, Image2, we can see that the comparable semester of the previous year had 2374 unused seats within the English Subject which means that we need to decrease our offerings for the upcoming semester. Further, I can select a subject and drilldown to the course level. Selecting English will drilldown to a new dashboard filtering all of our metrics by the English subject and now we can make meaningful decisions as to which courses to decrease as shown in Image3. On the Unutilized Capacity by Course we can now see that there were 1182 unused seats for Composition and Rhetoric as shown in Image4.

The ability for administrators to view this information and make meaningful decisions can save higher education institutions significant resources. For more information or to see this dashboard in action please contact an iDashboards Account Manager.

Zach Breimayer- Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Dashboards for Mental Health: You Can’t Just Throw Numbers on a Page

As we all know, today’s healthcare environment is changing and demands for accountability – from true outcomes to demonstrated, proven cost-effectiveness – are becoming more important each and every day.

In the Mental-Behavioral Health field the focus has shifted away from mere processes and procedures towards actual outcomes and performance based measurements. In other words, there has been a move from “simply throwing numbers on a page” to “utilizing those numbers to actually dictate the organizations day-to-day decision making.”

But the question still remains…”how does an organization make that happen?” How does an organization, with numerous disparate systems and potentially hundreds of reports, not only  consolidate all of that information into a single platform but also  communicate that technical information to non-technical team members? The answer is dashboards.

Dashboards are like a scorecard…an easy-to-read user interface that not only aggregates, but more importantly, provides a graphical presentation of the current status (what’s happening today) and historical trends of an organizations most vital Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

That being said, what professionals within the mental and behavioral health fields are discovering is that they can now more accurately analyze data, monitor treatments and maintain quality. Perhaps that information is coming from their Electronic Medical Records system and includes things such as patient statistics, quality of care, compliance, and overall enrollment levels. Or maybe that information is strung across numerous departments and composes general Financial, IT, Operation and employee metrics. Whatever the case may be, dashboards are arming decision-makers with the critical information they need to plan for today and develop on-going strategies for the future – a must-have in today’s business setting.

Recently, one of our customers told us that they purchased our software for one main reason…they were responding to a statewide mandate that called for the use of dashboards in order to increase visibility, accountability, and performance between the state’s government and local-level healthcare agencies. However, what they found was that dashboards became the perfect mechanism in which the CEO, and other key executive staff members, could keep track of daily organizational activities and increase both visibility and awareness of performance.

Another client, a large county level Mental-Health provider, is saving 75 I.T. man hours every month because their reports are now done automatically in the dashboards.

So as you can see, there is a strong payback when organizations can gain the ability to instantly access, analyze and  drilldown through a wealth of information that although they may have had access to that information for years previous in the form of massive Excel workbooks or page-upon-page of reports, it is only now that they are finally able to fully understand what all of that information is truly telling them about their organization.

Josh Townsend - Cloud Sales – Team Lead, iDashboards

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