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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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iDashboards ViPanels

In this blog I would like to talk about ViPanels. This functionality was introduced with iDashboards Version 8.0 and stands for “Visually Interactive Panel.” ViPanels are part of the iDashboards Panel functionality and are accessible through the iDashboards User Application (right click and select “Add/Edit Panel”) or through the iDashboards Designer (select the Panel icon  ). Once the “Configure Dashboard Panel” window opens, select the ViPanel icon and choose the ViPanel applications that you want to use.

Panels are defined as dashboard objects and are not chart types (see also, iDashboards User Manual). ViPanels are actually custom built applications and can be developed for a variety of needs. They can be placed into a frame of a dashboard by the dashboard designer and are saved as part of the dashboard. The ViPanel applications can be downloaded through the iDashboards Online Support & Knowledge Acquisition Repository website (called OSKAR ). After downloading, the application(s) have to be installed through the iDashboards Administrator (System -> Plugins -> Plugin Type “ViPanel”). If you are an iDashboards Cloud customer, the ViPanel applications are already part of your iDashboards Cloud environment.

Whenever I am at a customer site for an engagement and I talk about these panels, I try to engage my trainees into a discussion on how ViPanels can be useful, especially when developing dashboards. I have been using ViPanels when creating “Launching Dashboards,” but of course it is up to each individual dashboard developer on how to use ViPanels. The point that I am trying to make here is that this functionally is available and I encourage you, the dashboard developer, to consider ViPanels in your design process.

By the way, I purposely did not have any ViPanel examples in this blog. I was hoping though, that this blog would make you curious enough about the ViPanels currently available in your iDashboards installation. So go ahead and take a look. Maybe you will find this functionality very helpful and will use it for your current or next dashboard development project. Whether you utilize them or not, I think ViPanels are an excellent tool in the iDashboards development toolbox.

Aziz Sanal – Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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How to get Embed with iDashboards

For a long time, there have been rumors of iDashboards being embed with SharePoint. But lately, people are hearing rumors of iDashboards being embed with any web page!

iDashboards can be embedded into other web-technologies. This topic will provide examples on how to leverage various interfaces for delivering the dashboards you need to share. While this isn’t new functionality, it might be new information.

It is important to know two types of login options are available within iDashboards. First, there is a ‘named user’ login, which requires a specific username and password. And second, there is a ‘web license’ login, which acts as a guest user and bypasses the need for a password. The web license also allows a few parameters within the URL to control the display of the dashboard, chart or application options.

Moving on, let’s learn about three methods of sharing visual charts and dashboards. In SharePoint, embedding is achieved using a function called ‘Web Part’. Khuteja wrote a blog about iDashboards and SharePoint here. For websites, the basic HTML syntax for embedding is simply:

Embedding HTML

Examples
Click here for working examples. Unfortunately, over time, the dashboard ID used in the example is likely to change. If you have any problems, just let us know so we can help.

Dashboard via Browser

iDashboards can deliver the rich graphics of a dashboard using a simple web browser. This is the number one method used by our customers.

Pros
• Full screen capability, regardless of screen size/resolution
• Manually resize the browser window and the dashboard will automatically resize
• Users can navigate categories and open dashboards using search options
• Users have access to the iDashboards product documentation
• If using the named user login, users can change their password, language, dashboard display style and email address

Cons
• End users must be provided the URL or hyperlink
• Some netbooks and small-screen devices shrink the dashboard too much

Dashboard Embedded into HTML

Some companies really enjoy the added control of embedding iDashboards into a web page (or SharePoint). This is very popular within structured organizations or for those wishing to optimize the web license. The task only takes minutes to perform, but requires someone who has access to edit web pages.

Pros
• Users can easily find the dashboards ON the webpage without clicking on a hyperlink
• Dashboards developed to a specific dimension can be displayed to the exact dimensions
• Categories can be hidden, so can the application menu button
• Specific dashboards can be displayed

Cons
• Although only a few minutes are needed, a website (or SharePoint) designer must perform the embedding task


 

Chart Embedded into HTML

On a few occasions, it may make sense to embed a single chart into a webpage (or SharePoint). This is only functional using the web license.

Pros
• Useful when sharing a small amount of information

Cons
• Multiple charts embedded on a web page will not share common features like: Interactive Intelligence, Synchronized Pivots, Drill to Frame, or Dashboard Input Parameters.
• Dashboard background colors or images will not display behind the charts

I really hope you enjoyed this information over the holiday season. I’m going to get embed now and begin my holiday break.

Ken Rose – Product Marketing Leader, iDashboards

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The Big Bang or The Big Win?

Hi, I’m Brad Hines. I’m a technical services team member at iDashboards. I help clients with implementation and development of Business Intelligence projects by using the iDashboards software. I love what I do and do what I love.

I’ve learned a great deal this past year about implementing Business Intelligence projects. To round out the iDashboards blog for 2013, I’ve decided to share some of the best ‘lessons learned’ while on the road and share some of the experiences I’ve had. Some of the most rewarding, and the most painful lessons, are hard fought and will help with any organization that endeavors to improve its processes and transform its effectiveness in the marketplace.

I hope you will find these as insightful and humorous as I did. Let’s dashboard!

1) Don’t be afraid to start
So many organizations are worried about what their projects will yield or look like that they often agonize and never get started. Champions leave, organizational priorities change, and organizational changes can often make developed dashboards irrelevant. Change happens, and often quickly. I find a far more effective approach with BI design is realizing that dashboard designing is by nature iterative, never ending, and organic. Your designs will change constantly. It’s much more effective to design and get it close to right and correct than it is to never get started. Just know that this will be an ongoing challenge and there will always be a need to develop and change content. This often stems from finding patterns from the first-go round and asking new and better questions over time. To quote Yoda, “Let the dashboard flow within you. With each dashboard you become stronger. Use the Dashboard, and trust in the Dashboard Brad.” …Did I get that quote right?

2) Nobody ever gets it right on the first try – this is iterative
Folks whom are not involved with the dashboard process will change their minds or not articulate what they really need to make decisions. Someone isn’t going to be happy with a design choice. Someone will still mention a significant factor that wasn’t considered when a dashboard was built. It happens, and not only is it OK, it’s expected and welcomed! Build dashboards with designs that are repeatable and allow enough design room for changes. We also built the software to be flexible enough to quickly re-create concepts into completed dashboards. It’s OK if things change, your dashboards can adapt.

3) Recycle and re-purpose with Pride
I find that after I design a chart I am often repeating the same chart designs over and over again. I’m a huge advocate for re-purposing the charts I create and transforming them into new concepts. Steal with pride! Why spend all the extra time involved with re-creating designs when you could re-purpose a chart and spend less time working on design?

4) Create a template gallery
I save a lot of time by creating default templates for my development teams. So, when a new dashboard concept is developed I create a generic chart with design choices, and a generic dashboard layout. Then, when I create additional charts I just re-cycle the template charts and dashboards. This saves me hours of development work and repeating what is previously created.

5) Choose dashboard building efforts based on value-added to the organization and the available skill set
Rather than focusing on an initial dashboard that adds a ton of value but is challenging to create, instead when you are first developing focus on the easiest dashboards to create first. The lessons learned about how team members interact and the capabilities of the organization will become apparent. I like to work on easier dashboards, then circle back to more complex and more value-added dashboards. I always end up saving time in the long run by tackling the easiest first and developing skill sets when training. My students then become confident dashboard sharks eager for their next organizational challenge.

6) Everyone’s data needs work. It’s OK …. Start with building the dashboards first, then provide the real data sets
iDashboards training is aimed at having an even split of users in the room: Users with data skills in Excel and/or database(s), and decision makers interested in making decisions. The synergy of iDashboards is that folks typically not involved in a software development lifecycle can create their own dashboards. By having decision makers use Excel to mock up a data set, when real data is available a user can easily change the source of data from an excel mockup to the real data. Thus, if we have a completed dashboard, and therefore a specific set of data requirements in place from a dashboard, data professionals can have a clear target that doesn’t change to hit. This also gives the data pro the freedom to decide if they want to hit an Excel spreadsheet, a view, a stored procedure, a de-normalized pre-aggregate batch table, data warehouse or everyday transactional table to display data. This leads to rapid churn time and many fewer revisions over time. It also means more people can contribute to the construction effort.

7) This is supposed to be fun
I have a blast coming in and working with folks every day. I love to see how iDashboards creates organizational value and leads to positive change. Make it fun and people will participate. The end goal is to make a fun product that makes life easier, returns millions of dollars in value to an organization, and helps people focus on adding value instead of being stuck in Excel purgatory. If the dashboards aren’t doing that, it’s because of one of three reasons: The organizational politics, the skills, or the dashboards aren’t answering the key questions users need to answer. Create a process for users to challenge data in the dashboard and provide an avenue for people to participate and the project will flourish.

Lastly,

8) The folks at iDashboards really do care.
I see it in every interaction. From sales engineers on the road, our tech support team, our sales people and our leadership, we want you to succeed. If we can do anything to help, realize that every project is different and we want to help you succeed. Some organizations need a bit more time to work on concepts. Others want to develop their data proficiency to add value. If your organization doesn’t have these things, it’s OK to lean on us and develop an action plan. We succeed because we care, and we care that everyone succeeds. We look forward to your comments and success in the coming New Year. Happy 2014 to your organizations and families.

Brad Hines – Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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The Product is the Process

A note to the Senior Executives – your “product” is the delivery of information and needs to be updated.

In a recent US Today article entitled “How CEOs are Nearly Illiterate about Technology”, Michael Wolff noted that politicians talking about the introduction of the healthcare.gov web site stated the “product” was good, just the “process” was troubled. Wolff noted that for most people “the process is the product.” On a more general note he later wrote “there are few CEOs who can get their heads around the notion that their main value added and distinguishing products are not the cars they manufacture, or credit they supply, or hotel rooms they offer, or merchandise they stock, but the process by which consumers interact with what is being sold.

If you’re a Senior Manager, isn’t part of your “product” the ability to communicate relevant information that improves performance, creates positive change, or helps increase profitability?  If so, are you still reporting results to your stakeholders, employees, or customers the same way results were reported back in the early 1990’s when Bill Clinton was elected President of the United States?  In other words, are you still using Excel as your reporting tool?

As we approach 2014 we need to realize that “the process is the product” and if the numbers are difficult to understand, or if those receiving your reports can’t see the story behind the numbers because the story is hidden in rows and columns, you need a better process.

Dashboards provide visibility. Visibility creates accountability, and accountability creates positive change. Recently a manufacturer put together a dashboard based on Excel data they had looked at every week and noticed a trend that maybe should have been obvious to them but wasn’t until they saw the numbers in a picture. By making minor scheduling changes they almost completely stopped the need for overnight shipping and are now saving $10,000 a week in shipping costs.  After updating their “process” their employees were able to make immediate changes, and they added $500,000/year to the bottom line.  Take the rows and columns of data in your current Excel files and turn them into insight that will have a positive impact on your business.  Isn’t it time you improved your process?

Tim Barr – Director, Cloud Sales, iDashboards

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What is the Purpose of a Dashboard?

What is the purpose of a Dashboard?

As an iDashboards Technical Consultant, to start off my training when I visit onsite I ask the question, “What is the purpose of a dashboard?”  There is typically a 10 second pause while everyone thinks.  Common answers are, “To see information” or, “To do what the boss asks.” One person even said, “To make pretty charts.”

Before you read on, ask yourself, “What is the purpose of one of my dashboards?”

I believe the purpose of a dashboard is to, “Visualize data to make an informed decision.”

A Dashboard is comprised of charts.  A good chart turns data into information by visualizing trends, displaying outliers and using color to highlight data above or below a given target.  iDashboards correlates data in charts to provide even better information.  When the dashboard audience (manager, Director, VP) connects the information, watch for that “A-ha” moment.  Listen for the phrase, “That’s cool!” Or if the audience is from a younger generation you might hear, “Wicked!”

That moment is a powerful insight.  One customer used an iDashboards chart to track late shipments by day of the week.  The chart showed that beginning on Wednesday, late shipments increased significantly. This customer got excited about this powerful insight and took the next natural step: make a decision. The customer increased manufacturing on Tuesdays to increase inventory.  Thus, they saved $10,000/week in expedited shipping costs.

Isn’t that cool?  That makes my day because the chart’s purpose resulted in a positive impact.

So, before you build your next dashboard, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Who is the audience?
  • Why should the audience care?
  • What message will the dashboard deliver?

When you have the answers (and the data!), your dashboard will create powerful insights.

Paul Ligeski – Sr. Technical Consultant, iDashboards

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Don’t Sweat the Data Side

iDashboards is the best option for customers looking to interactively visualize and analyze their data through the dashboards they build. When I am out training new customers, I always start out with my introductory remarks by telling the customer that once we are done with training, we will be building dashboards with their data. I want them thinking about their data and their metrics the entire time I am training them on the application.

Customers are always looking for guidance on how to structure their data. They are looking for advice on where their data is stored, whether they need a data warehouse before they can use iDashboards, whether iDashboards can be used to generate values instead of needing to go back in and manipulate the data, or whether they can automate the data extraction they are currently doing.

They are continuing to take adhoc report requests, extract the data requested into a local spreadsheet, and then manually generate those reports. Then rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat on a daily, weekly, or monthly schedule.

These customers have a data conundrum and that is a big reason for their purchase of iDashboards. The irony is that iDashboards isn’t doing anything with the data other than visualizing it. It seems as though with their data conundrum they personify Einstein’s definition of insanity – “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

With one customer, I built a dashboard for them in about two hours.  After finishing the build, there was a stunned silence throughout the room, until the data analyst/adhoc report creator finally said, “What you just did in 2 hours takes me 3 days at the end of every month.”  Then she continued, saying “I’m going to have to find something to do for 3 days at the end of every month now.”

I have had customers question which should come first – the data warehouse or the iDashboards server. On a recent phone call with a potential customer, they suggested creating their data warehouse and coming back to us after that was done. Problem was, their data warehouse was going to take 18 months to become available. 18 months?! And in the meantime, they will continue to waste countless hours taking requests for adhoc reports that need to be manually generated on demand.

And, I’m always mystified when someone will say, “well we don’t really have any data to work with.” Huh? Ok, your data may not be in order, but you’ve got data. Everyone has data. We live in an age when we’re swimming in data. So, I don’t accept a statement like “We don’t have any data.”

On another recent engagement, we had reached the point in the week where we had begun storyboarding and building dashboards. The customer wanted to break this into 2 hour intervals, kind of like speed storyboarding, with different department heads coming in every two hours. An approach that I had seen used before. This time, though, the first person in the room was the CFO.

When we got to the point of gathering data, there were no specific tables built for Financial Reporting. He was used to seeing data in income statement format or balance sheet format. So, when the Database Analyst said he didn’t have any views with the financial information available, the CFO’s skepticism kept ticking up. I jumped in and offered to create data in the appropriate structure so the CFO could at least see the visualization that was possible. The CFO scoffed at that idea and now fully inflamed in skepticism, got up and walked out of the session after only 20 minutes.

There is a happy ending to the story though, the analyst put together a table directly from SQL with real data and we built a sleek financial dashboard that we showed to the CFO at the end of the week. All skepticism faded and the CFO wanted more. The moral of that story is not to use the CFO as your first foray into building dashboards from data that exists, but is not ready for use.

Although, the moral of all these stories is don’t sweat the data side. There will always be data issues. Ultimately, the visual dashboards will expose data issues or inaccuracies and potentially assist in defining the data warehouse structure for that lengthy 18 month project. But, that should not hold you back from analyzing your metrics and making business decisions with the visual dashboards that can be built off any amount of data, big or small.

The time is now. Bring your data. Let’s build some dashboards.

Jerry Stowe, Technical Consultant

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The Next Big Thing

So imagine its 1990 and the average desktop computer has a hard drive worth all of 40 MB and a cost per gigabyte of around $11,000. Fast forward to Y2K and we have consumers clamoring for a few hundred megabytes, with an average cost beginning the year around $20.00 and finding itself all the way below $10.00 by the years end.  Some pretty stunning information; in a single decade we were able to reduce the cost of a gigabyte by about 1/560th, and in the following  year halve that cost again. Now imagine its still 1990, or even 1995, when the cost was only $1,100 per gigabyte and someone comes to you and says, “Hey, in just a little more than 2 decades from now, you can buy all the space you’ll ever need!  So much in fact that the average consumer won’t even be able to fill all they buy” (legally that is).  Would you have believed that?  How about, “Best of all, they’ll be practically giving it away!”  And boy do they, has anyone been to a tradeshow lately?  I have more USB drives in my desk drawer than I know what to do with.

So back to reality, it’s 2013 and the average cost per gigabyte is $0.05, a whopping 1/224000th of the cost only 23 years earlier. The most amazing part is that the rates at which these costs have fallen, have maintained themselves over the entire 23 year period.  We’ve been able to continue to pioneer such cutting edge technological advances that we’ve kept cutting storage costs at almost the same rate for more than 30 years now.

Ok great, entertaining story, but what’s the point you ask?  We’ll I’ll tell you.  We, and I mean mankind, have been witness to some pretty huge technology booms on this planet; a few of which have been so enormous in size that they’ve not only created, but changed and influenced our global economy and allowed us to write a future almost no one could’ve predicted was coming. Take for example the creation of the Personal Computer (PC); there certainly was a point where computers were so large, so expensive, and so difficult to operate, no one would’ve predicted that one day most homes in America would have one, let alone one in everyone’s hand.  Just the same, take the internet; what started as a few computers being able to communicate back and forth with each other bloomed into a limitless means for communication and information transaction globally.  Once idolizing the educated for their knowledge, the internet now has us idolizing farm-raised girls from Nebraska impressing doctoral scientists on primetime television with their broad knowledge of  anything science. Thank you Google (and yes that’s my shameful Big Bang Theory reference).  But back to the point, both were major booms, and both are directly responsible for changing the course of existence (not to get too sentimental about it). So what about all this data stuff?  In 2011, it was calculated that since 1986 we as humans have stored more than 295 billion gigabytes. What that really means is there’s a lot, and it’s only getting worse considering you can record a gigabyte of information for a mere Jefferson (that’d be a nickel). There’s another huge boom coming, and it’s coming in the form of a way to handle this massive tidal wave of information.  To store it, to access it, to digest it, and most importantly to make sense and learn something from it; and we want it all done easily, finished yesterday, and making our decisions for us!

It would appear technology has spoiled us, but maybe that’s just because we just keep setting the bar higher and higher and keep reaching it each time!

Jason Wolan, Professional Services Manager

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