Higher Education Dashboards Make the Grade for Reporting

iDashboards Higher Education

“Reports” is a vague word these days.

It’s common for administrators at an institution of higher education to inquire about “reporting” tools and their interest comes from a variety of different places. Pressure to produce accurate reports can come from the board, accreditation organizations, system office, Deans, parents, donors or alumni. It also stems from a lack of relevant information about how well administrators have progressed toward realizing strategic planning goals. Many institutions have settled for antiquated tools and methodology, resulting in numbers and information with different versions of the data.

If you were to ask two different cabinet members about the current enrollment this week versus last year, chances are you’ll hear different answers. And, most likely, you’ll hear a number of questions before a shaky answer comes out. “All students or just Full Time? Online learners too? What about our Part Time students? What about Awards or Certificate students? Do we count those as Part Time?”

So let’s fast-forward to the part where it has been determined that “We need insight into our data for better and more accurate decision making!”

Sounds good, right?
The next logical step is that a committee is formed, comprised of executives, data champions, IT & IR, key faculty and additional administrative employees. Many educational organizations want to include opinions and expertise from all areas of campus. It is important to understand who all the stakeholders are and what they want out of the available data.

Still sounds good, so far.
Committees from higher education institutions should address what’s important to monitor, who should have access and what capabilities different people should have with the “reporting” tool. In many instances, IT and IR departments typically start looking in the market for industry leaders and possibly talk to peers in their network about what reporting tools they use on their campus.

Sounds like we are making solid traction, right?
Now it’s time to test the different reporting tools. During product evaluations, the project managers will see many differences in these tools. The most glaring difference is the distinction between “reporting” tools and dashboard tools. Many systems have different core competencies and, sure, there is some crossover functionality, but the truth is that any reporting tool with a charting add-on or component is going to be too limited and won’t sustain heavy editing. Any dashboard tool that claims to have an enterprise ready, ad-hoc reporting tool to satisfy all reporting needs may not be representing itself as accurately as one would hope. A tool that works wonders for one campus might become “shelfware” on another.

What do we need?
It’s all about what your needs require. People use the word “report” interchangeably and it can mean a number of different things. “Reports” could be dashboards, spreadsheets, summarized data, KPIs, or scorecards…

Do you want a 30 second, at-a-glance tool that users can quickly access without requesting anything from IT or IR? Implement a higher education dashboard. Do you want a data analyst to build queries, summarize it and send out those people in a .pdf? Well, a reporting tool might just be a fit. What a number of higher education institutions find is that they need more than one tool in their business intelligence (BI) toolkit. Chances are you need both reporting and higher education dashboards for different users and audiences.

OK, so we need both. Now what?
One vendor will not satisfy an education institution’s needs for predictive modeling, ad-hoc reporting, dashboards, warehousing, data manipulation and so on. Some of the big BI companies claim to have modules to satisfy these needs. After a few years of potentially heavy IT and consultant development, often upwards of a $1M investment, late nights, countless lost weekends and missed deadlines, most higher ed institutions will seek out the specialized tools that focus and deliver on what they do best.

Where do you get your sushi?
I always go to a sushi restaurant when I’m craving spicy tuna rolls. It would be nice if within the same restaurant, my friend could order a top-notch cheeseburger and we could have Italian gelato for dessert. Unfortunately, this magical restaurant only exists in my culinary dreams. The most successful sushi restaurants aren’t the greatest at making cheeseburgers or Italian cuisine. They solely focus on what they do best and perfect it.

The same goes for reporting tools. It makes sense to use an organization for your higher education dashboard and reporting tools that is an expert in the field. It is important to trust your critical data to the masters – quality matters in reporting, just like in sushi. It may take bit of extra attention up front, but using a few different and strategic tools in your BI toolkit will set you up for a successful business intelligence dashboard initiative.

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March College Basketball Madness Comes Alive with Dashboard Technology



At iDashboards, we’ve been counting down the days until Selection Sunday and the official kickoff to March Madness. To celebrate the 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, we’re launching our March Madness dashboard on March 16.

The dashboard offers college basketball fans in-depth insight into the participating teams’ statistics throughout the tournament. Some of the stats you can explore include season average points scored per game, field goal percentage, free throw percentage, three-point percentage, blocks, rebounds and more. We also feature an interactive map illustrating where each team’s school is located, and graphs displaying total wins versus total losses during regular season play.

Our complimentary March Madness dashboard offers sports enthusiasts a really fun and unique way to enjoy every game throughout the tournament and get into the statistics on a deeper level. We create the dashboard annually and think it’s a great way for fans to understand the power of data visualization and the ability drilldown into critical data. Just like dashboards can help you make better business decisions, they can also help you make better bracket decisions for March Madness.

March Madness fans can access the dashboard for free at beginning March 16. Stats and data for each team will be updated throughout the progression of the tournament.

What team are you rooting for during March Madness?


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Are You Experiencing Smartphone Dashboard Overload?


Data visualization dashboards have a lot of uses for different situations, but the goal is always the same—to provide insight into key data at-a-glance, with the ability to drilldown into the details as needed. For example, think of the information that is important to you personally.

The dashboards that I use most often are actually on my smartphone. A dashboard is, after all, a place to show the data that is most important to you and that is what my cell phone screen does. My smartphone (after much trial and error) has two screens and three dashboards that show me information I have identified as important for my day.

My first two smartphone dashboards show sports scores, family events, birthdays of friends and more. The third one, however, is my notification center, which alerts me to new emails, missed phone calls, date, time, weather and more. This allows me to take immediate action based on what I see. For instance, when I look at the notifications on my smartphone dashboard and see the weather, it helps me decide if I should wear a polo shirt or a sweater.

Much like I condensed and organized my smartphone dashboards based on what information was most important for me to see at-a-glance, business decision-makers need to decide what data is most important for them to see in a dashboard. We have all kinds of data from many different sources available to us. We need to decide what the focus of each dashboard is. Once we decide the focus, we will be able to figure out the information that means the most to us.

What data will help us make the best business decisions? We probably do not need to know all the details of every appointment we have, but rather just knowing that we have things planned is good enough. We can always drilldown into enhanced details when we need to.

So, the next time you are looking to build a dashboard, just think to yourself: what is going to help me make the best business decisions? After you decide what data you would like to see, think about what the story it is telling. If the story makes sense, can you get to the details, or data, that make that story? If so, it sounds like you have a great start to a very powerful dashboard.

Have you created smartphone dashboards? What stories do you tell on your mobile device?

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Why Use Healthcare Dashboards to Track Data?


The healthcare industry is increasingly dependent on accurate, timely data in order to meet government standards and work towards improvement goals. Many hospitals, surgical centers and emergency services providers have unique needs and a complicated organizational structure, which means there are many people who need to understand many different sets of data.

Risk management and service quality are considerations with uniquely serious ramifications in the health care industry. The stakes are high when it comes to patient outcomes; and with compensation tied directly to certain industry key performance indications (KPIs), there is a vital need to provide practitioners with rapid and actionable insights.

There is no shortage of data in the healthcare industry. But there is a shortage of understanding and contextualization of the data being collected.

How can we help find the important connections that exist between disparate data sources? How can decision-makers at healthcare organizations drilldown into their data more efficiently and effectively to make better business decisions?

Healthcare dashboards provide a visual centric method for contextualizing data, increasing the visibility of and emphasis on KPIs while promoting transparency within a hospital of healthcare facility.

Examples of healthcare dashboards we have designed for clients and metrics measured include:

  • Clinical Dashboards can be used to measure nursing unit censuses, current patient loads for emergency rooms and bed occupancy rates. These dashboards can also help you track public health outbreaks, like the current flu epidemic, to better plan staffing needs.
  • Hospital Dashboards assist your organization in tracking admissions and ER wait times. These include dashboards that highlight departmental spending, quarterly income and cost of care, helping everyone in the hospital work toward financial goals.
  • Patient Dashboards make it possible to see the average length of stay for patients, total numbers of current patients and lab turnaround time.
  • Physician Dashboards can help physicians track their number of patients, patient satisfaction and number of new patients, all in real-time.
  • Quality & Risk Management Dashboards can help monitor and simplify complex compliance issues. These dashboards assist you in managing core quality metrics, patient safety data and comparing internal performance versus industry benchmarks.

By implementing data visualization healthcare dashboards, employees in various positions can all access the same data and understand how it affects their department. In a complex industry like healthcare, being able to make more informed decisions is a vital part of a successful business strategy.

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The Key Differences Between Business Intelligence & Visual Intelligence [Plus Free Whitepaper Download]

iDashboards-Business Intelligence -vs-Visual intelligence

Important business decisions are made every day. Data is the lifeblood of these decisions. We live in a world where the volume of data is as immense as the number of sources it comes from.

So how can you make the right choices when you’re sitting on a mountain of disconnected information spread throughout your business?

Making the best decisions possible not only requires the best data, but the best way of interpreting that data. What good is all of that information if you cannot look past the rows, columns, tables and stats to see trends, outliers, issues and opportunities?

Business intelligence just isn’t enough, organizations need visual intelligence.

Dashboards are a powerful visual intelligence tool because of their ability to display data from multiple sources and communicate the message behind the numbers. Dashboards break down data silos and help tell the story in a way that everyone can understand.

In our latest whitepaper, we explain the science behind data visualization and how you can use visual intelligence to help streamline reporting, easily analyze KPIs from across your business and make better decisions more swiftly.

To learn more, click here to download our newest whitepaper.


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Data Source Connectivity: Can I Directly Connect To My Back-End?

Often times, the topic of data source connectivity comes up when prospects inquire about iDashboards software. Specifically, they would like to know if we have any experience connecting to a particular CRM, EHR, ABC Accounting/Finance system, or any other myriad of data sources on the back-end.

Let’s explain the criteria iDashboards uses to determine if a direct connection can be made.

When discussing data source connectivity, it is important to understand that iDashboards is “data agnostic.” We can potentially connect to any data source that utilizes an ODBC or JDBC driver. For the non-technical prospect, this stands for Open Data Base Connectivity or Java Data Base Connectivity.

These ODBC and JDBC drivers are the key component that must be available for your particular data source if you wish to have a real-time connection to your back-end data and display it live.

Data Source Connectivity

Let’s take it a step further and look at some examples:

iDashboards has the capability to connect to any relational data source. This includes (but is not limited to) the following: SQL Server, MySQL, Excel, Access, Oracle, DB2, Flat Files and Cache systems.

Furthermore, iDashboards also includes real-time data source connectivity to Salesforce, Google Analytics, Facebook, Twitter and MS OLAP Cubes.

Here are a couple of different scenarios:

  1. I have EPIC software as my back-end, can I connect directly? EPIC software supports an ODBC driver. So YES, iDashboards would be able to directly connect and deliver real-time dashboards displaying EPIC KPIs and Metrics.
  1. I have SAP, as a back-end data source, would I be able to directly connect with iDashboards and display real-time data? As of right now, SAP does not have an ODBC or JDBC driver, so we would not be able to directly connect. However, we would be able to connect secondarily, meaning that you would need to export the SAP data into something like Excel, Access, SQL or some other relational data source, at which point iDashboards would connect to the secondary source. The end result would be the same—SAP data being displayed through iDashboards. However, it would only be as real-time as when that nightly, weekly, monthly, etc., export takes place.

Given the multiple data sources and back-end systems that are utilized between all industries and verticals in business today, iDashboards is able to take that data and turn it into dashboards.

The key question that must be answered though is this: Does the data source I am looking to turn into dashboards support an ODBC or JDBC driver?

If the answer is YES, then iDashboards will theoretically be able to directly connect to that data source.

If the answer is NO, then you must ask yourself: Can I export the data from this back-end data source into something that does support an ODBC or JDBC driver, with the understanding that the dashboards will only be as “real-time” as when that export takes place?

But how will I know if there is a driver available? Here are 3 possible answers:

  1. Your system administrator/IT will more than likely know what type of platform your data source resides on (i.e. SQL, Oracle, MySQL, OLAP Cubes, etc.).
  2. You can go right to the source and contact the data source creator themselves.
  3. You can download a free 30 day trial and utilize one of the many ODBC or JDBC connectors we have available and, with the help of our support team, determine if there is a driver that will allow for this connection. To contact our support team, email

Interested in more information about data source connectivity? Click here.


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The Real Scoop on Dashboards

The term “dashboards” in the business world still generates a lot of confusion. Unfortunately, many decision makers don’t know what dashboards are, what they do, and, subsequently, how these products can help them make better business decisions that lead to enhanced efficiency and an improved bottom line.

When it comes to gathering critical business data, most employees will rely on what’s worked for them before—emails, reports, Excel spreadsheets, meetings, or even getting up to go ask a co-worker questions on a certain topic. When one or more of these tactics is employed to gather data, it can often be time consuming and a drain on resources—but employees use these strategies because they don’t know how else to do it, or they aren’t aware of other options. Not to mention that when employees are under a tight deadline, they may overlook certain pieces of information that could help them develop their opinion on a subject matter. Is this really how you want your employees making key decisions that affect the company’s bottom line?


Do you know how your employees make these decisions?

Dashboards simplify the information-gathering process. A robust dashboard solution takes all of the tactics above and condenses it into one easy-to-navigate solution that provides timely insight into business data. By opening one tool, decision makers can identify any necessary information, drilldown into granular statistics, and make more educated decisions—ultimately leading to increased productivity by not having to jump through as many hoops to gather the necessary data. Plus, by having all of this data available at their fingertips, decision makers have the required information to, well, make better decisions.

This goes for anyone making decisions—from junior level employees and managers to directors and C-suite executives. These are the folks making decisions all day long, and you want these decisions to be made with the most accurate and current data available.

Get started in three steps:

  1. Gather your decision makers in a room to determine what data is most important for making critical business decisions.
  2. Determine where those metrics are stored, whether it’s Excel spreadsheets, public servers, emails, etc.
  3. Decide which employees will see what level of metrics.

Once these steps are complete, it makes it easier to create unique dashboards that fit your business model specifications.

Dashboards will help employees drill into data quicker, saving time and resources, and allow them to make better business decisions with all of the critical business data easily accessible.

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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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