Archive for October, 2007

Dashboards from an IT Operations Portal

Tuesday, October 30th, 2007

Dashboards bring the most value when they can be configured to meet the varying needs of different user communities. This is especially true in the data rich world of IT operations management where different constituents require very different levels of information.

Of course, the CIO and CTO want rolled up system KPIs and metrics in order to monitor the “big picture”. Business owners, on the other hand, want to monitor metrics specific to their interest – such as their own business system SLAs. They would like to be alerted to specific system availablity issues, for example. Other users, such as Program managers and IT personnel would need access to detail-level alerts and logs so that they can troubleshoot specific issues with the applications that they are involved with.

Obviously, in the domain of system management, one-size-fits-all dashboards do not suffice. A true portal, with customizable views per individual user, is needed.

Thanks to a Dashboard Spy at Firescope who was willing to take some screenshots for us, we have the following dashboards from an IT operations portal to study.

As we were told:

Attached are a few sample screencaps, with a description of each listed below. One of the key features of the solution is that it is delivered as a web portal, enabling every user to customize the layout and content of every page – which means that IT specialists get access to the raw detail level they need, while IT and business leaders get a high-level strategic view of services, correlated with business metrics from key applications like financial transaction systems, ERP solutions and others.

Here is a view of a typical CIO view of an IT dashboard. Click on the screenshot to bring up a full-size version of the dashboard screenshot.

Firescope IT CIO dashboard

In terms of this particular screen, here is what our source at FireScope told us:

“This is an example of how an IT director or C-Level exec might configure their home page, with a high level view of alerts and service level issues.”

Now let’s take a look at some other dashboards of other user roles:

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Available Chart Types in Google Spreadsheets

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Dashboard Spy readers have been asking me to elaborate on the use of Google Spreadsheets as the charting engine for dashboard KPI graphics. As you may know, Google Docs is a free product that offers web-based office suite functionality including word processing, presentations and spreadsheets. While it is often accused of being “10 years behind Microsoft Excel”, the Google Docs Spreadsheet does offer some excellent features for us dashboarders.  I’ve been investigating the use of the product’s ability to publish data charts over the web.

Here’s a quick look at the charts:

Google Spreadsheet Chart Types Google Docs Charts

There are five types of charts that are available:

Columns – with 4 sub-types

Bar Charts – with 4 sub-types

Line Charts – with 5 sub-types

Scatter – with 3 sub-types

As demonstrated in this ”Ask the Dashboard Spy” video on coding dashboard portlets in html, we can take great advantage of the fact that Google Docs allows the creation of spreadsheet graphs that can be accessed over the web via their own URLs.  

By the way, here is the url for the entire collection of Dashboard Spy videos.

Continue reading to see 2 helpful Google Docs videos:

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Dashboard Spy Video Tutorial on Coding HTML for Portlets

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

The Dashboard Spy has launched a series of video tutorials on business intelligence dashboard design and commentary. Named “Ask The Dashboard Spy”, these videos feature the Dashboard Spy answering questions from the blog readership.

The first video demonstrates how to code basic HTML and CSS for the following dashboard portlet. View the video at the main Dashboard Spy site: Ask The Dashboard Spy.

While very simple, this portlet is actually quite interesting. The HTML is simple and straight-forward, but the portlet actually serves a pie chart with dynamically updated data. How? Here’s a clue - have you used the google docs web-based spreadsheet? It allows web publishing of spreadsheet graphics! View the end of the video for how I integrate the google spreadsheet for a poor man’s dashboard portlet.

Dashboard Portlet

Tags: Dashboard Video Tutorial, Ask The Dashboard Spy, Coding HTML for Dashboard Portlets

The Language of Dashboard Icons

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

Dashboard applications, more so than any other business software, are visual in nature. The more the “at-a-glance” nature of the dashboard, the easier the users find it to use and understand. Above all else, a clear understanding of the business condition is the goal of the corporate dashboard.

Icons and other simple graphical representations are used extensively as shortcuts to explain the meaning of dashboard measures. Dashboard users often monitor their areas of interest by watching for changes in these simple visual indicators.

In the past, The Dashboard Spy has commented on the use of simple icons as replacements for language. Remember this graphic of various dashboard icons?

Dashboard Icon set

Simple to understand and easy to use, right? Just choose an icon, pop it onto your dashboard and you’ll get a usable and useful business dashboard. Sorry, it may not be that easy. When choosing icons and other graphics for your dashboard, you have to stop and make sure that the symbology is unmistakable and not subject to misinterpretation. We, as dashboard designers, must study and understand The Language of Dashboard Icons.

How does a designer develop the sense for whether their design can be universally understood? I often use the technique of finding and studying at length dashboards written in languages other than english. I ask myself whether I really understand what’s going on. After my analysis, I’ll find a native speaker and ask them to explain parts of the dashboard to me. Often, I’m surprised at what I misunderstood and realize that I had better be more open-minded in my own design.

Thanks to Ole Øverli, a Dashboard Spy reader from Norway, we have just such an exercise to lead you through.

Let’s focus on the use of arrows, often found in use on dashboards to indicate trends within the data. Take a look at this column of arrows:

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An Excel-based IT Dashboard for the CIO

Thursday, October 18th, 2007

Sorry for the late Dashboard Spy post today, but I ran into a little problem with a security guard while “researching” today’s dashboard post. Yes, my dear readers, The Dashboard Spy finally got caught by security!

No, it’s not as bad as you think. I did not get detained while stealing screenshots in some Fortune 5 company. My record in those particular “research” sessions is still clear (Ahh, just the thought of it makes me feel like visiting a corporate campus!).  Nevertheless, I was indeed caught today while snapping pictures of a dashboard with my camera phone. I’ll explain that after I introduce today’s dashboard screenshot and commentary.

Today we look at an IT dashboard for a Chief Information Officer. It’s an Excel-based dashboard, albeit an Excel dashboard on steroids (with MicroCharts and XLCubed providing the “juice”.)

Our Dashboard Spy over in Germany, Andreas Lipphardt of MicroCharts, maker of those great little sparkline and bullet graphs for Excel,  sent over this note and screenshot:

Excel CIO Dashboard

 Now, if you think this CIO Dashboard looks familiar, you are right. Thanks to Stephen Few, we saw it in his book, Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data.

Here’s a look at the Stephen Few version (along with the story of my problem with the security guard!):

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Venture Deal Dashboards

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Dashboards are great for monitoring business metrics and KPIs. That’s the first use case that comes to mind when we talk about business dashboards. Think of all the graphs and charts that show operating trends and point out the health of the company.

A large number of dashboards, however,  focus on bringing industry news to the user. When monitoring an entire industry, whether for competitive reasons or because you just need to keep tabs on the latest industry trends and developements, you can easily be overwhelmed by the volume of information. Presenting industry news in an organized, dashboard-style presentation brings a lot of value to the user. This is particularly true if the dashboard logic includes categorization and roll-up functionality.

Let’s take an insider’s look at the venture deal news within a specific industry vertical. There is actually something called the Venturepedia Dashboard. Take a look at this screenshot of a news digest dashboard that tracks the lastest deals within the Cleantech industry. For those that need a primer (like me), the term “Cleantech” stands for Clean Technology. It represents the services and products that improve energy generation efficiency while reducing pollution, waste and energy consumption. It’s a fast growing industry fueled by rising public awareness of the need for clean technology development. The venture capital flow within this industry is robust and hence the need for this Clean Tech Venture Deal Dashboard:

Venture Deal Tracking dashboard

As you see, this news dashboard packs in a lot of information:

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7 Common Dashboard Chart Types

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Dashboard designers don’t just choose pretty colors to decorate the user interface with. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday convincing a potential client of the need to let professional UI designers apply best practices to chart design. Choosing the correct type of graph to accurately portray the business situation at hand is not an easy task.

Business intelligence visualization professionals such as Stephen Few make their living by knowing what type of chart works best in what situation. Beyond the obvious goals of clarity and ease of use, they worry about more subtle things like inadvertently (or worse yet, knowingly) implying meaning to data that really doesn’t exist.

I bring up Stephen Few’s name because of his authorship of a white paper that  is now two years old. I forwarded his paper to the client in question in order to educate him about the basic relationships in data that chart designers must be aware of. The name of the ProClarity whitepaper is Effectively Communicating Numbers: Selecting the Best Means and Manner of Display. Read it for yourself and you’ll want to print it out and keep it around for reference.

As an example, did you know that there are “7 Common Relationships in Quantitative Business Data”? I took the liberty of cutting and pasting out for you the examples of the 7 types:

 7 types of data charting relationships

As you see, the business data relationship types (and therefore dashboard chart types) are:

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Sales Channel Management Dashboards

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Dashboard Topic: More Sales Dashboards

Dashboard Spy reader submissions of example dashboards often come in groups. Someone sees a particular dashboard screenshot and it triggers a “hey – that’s something like the dashboard project that I’m working on now” moment, and they send me a link. I’ll post that second dashboard, and soon you get a whole series of dashboards involving a similar theme. It is interesting to note the trends that emerge.

The recent focus on sales dashboards and metrics have triggered exactly that effect and so today’s post also has to do with tracking sales performance. In today’s series of dashboards, we’ll look at the questions that arise when managing sales channels.

Here’s an example of an executive dashboard for management of sales channel information. This dashboard answers the question, “How is my channel performance tracking against goal?” Note the various portlets: Sales to Goal, Sales by Reseller Type, Top 10 Resellers and Top 10 Products.

Sales Channel Management Dashboard

Note that these dashboards are powered by a reporting product called Analytic Insight. It specializes in parsing intelligence out of sales channel data. There is a product feature screencast available at the following link:

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The Oracle Fusion Dashboard Widget

Thursday, October 11th, 2007

Dashboard Spy Update: Using desktop widget technology for information delivery and visualization is a cutting edge idea that is catching on. By bringing the information up to the desktop layer, the user gets the information even sooner than launching a browser or application. For a related post on how Business Objects is doing Dashboard Widgets, be sure to visit this post: Business Intelligence Dashboard Widgets.

Oracle Fusion is the company’s massive project to come up with a new suite of java-based ERP applications that combine the various products Oracle has acquired with the original eBusiness suite. PeopleSoft Enterprise, Siebel for CRM, Retek for retail, JD Edwards World and Enterprise One – all these need to roll into one integrated experience. It’s an interesting challenge. For background, see this excellent paper on the reaction of Oracle customers to Fusion.

Dashboards will figure heavily in the Fusion applications. These dashboards are being positioned as a bigh benefit for users.  Early on in the project cycle, as part of some proof of concepts, Oracle released some sales dashboards and some CRM dashboard. These leveraged aspects of the PeopleSoft Enterprise CRM and JD Edwards EnterpriseOne applications.

What is really interesting is that the design of the Fusion dashboards are forward-thinking. Note for example, the incorporation of widget technology for delivering business intelligence.

Look at this screenshot of a user desktop. There is a dashboard widget on the desktop!

Oracle Fusion Dashboard Widget

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Sales Compensation Dashboard

Tuesday, October 9th, 2007

A sales dashboard is the killer app for all sales people. Not just for tracking opportunities, sales efforts and pipeline, but in keeping tabs on commissions and other compensation-related data. I have never been in an organization where there isn’t a struggle for the sales folks to get their compensation right.

A sales person’s focus, of course, should be on closing opportunities, but,  in reality, some days in the month are spent arguing with the back office over credits, commissions and incentives. Wouldn’t it be nice, if all this was displayed transparently on a sales compensation dashboard during the month for all to track?

A Dashboard Spy working on a sales dashboard sent me these screenshots that he was studying:

Example of Sales Compensation Dashboard

Look at the user controls, recognize them? Yep…

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