Newcomers to the Business Intelligence Dashboard space sometimes get caught up in the nomenclature of the topic. In fact, even regular practioners have trouble with the terms. What exactly makes something an enterprise dashboard, an executive dashboard, a business scorecard, a performance measurement summary, a BI application, or an enterprise reporting system? As you’ve seen in the past year, new versions of reporting products and spreadsheets now offer classical dashboarding functionality.
To confound the matter even further, it is quite easy to mix up the terms used for the technology with the business functionality. Note terms like portals, portlets and widgets. Even the namespace itself is a conflicted one. Enter the word dashboard into a search engine like Google and you’ll find a regular rotation of several different “dashboard” themes at the top of the results listings. Sometimes it’s business dashboards up top with sites like The Dashboard Spy and Dashboards by Example. Other times it’s a rock band named “Dashboard Confessional”. And, yet, at other times it’s “dashboard widgets” as in the desktop mini-application made popular by Apple Computer and more recently Microsoft Vista.
I bring this up because of some work being done by the big brains over at Business Objects labs. Thanks to a Dashboard Spy nosing around over there, we have some interesting dashboard screenshots and even a nice video to check out.
To add to the naming confusion, Business Objects has Business Intelligence Desktop Widgets. Borrowing from the widget school of presenting information in an ambient style – i.e. as part of the user desktop environment, the Business Objects BI Desktop brings information visualization right to you on your desktop. The BI in effect comes up one level closer to the end user – skipping the web browser or rich client.
Let’s have a look at these BI dashboard widgets by Business Objects. If you want a larger view, just click on each dashboard screenshot:
As you see, this opens up a new world of BI information visualization possibilities. In addition to the visuals, you can have alert boxes right on your desktop. Note the alert on the lower right side of the screen.
I mentioned earlier that there is a video available. Let’s have a look:
Dashboard Spy readers will have to forgive the obvious cliche when it comes to selecting spy agency dashboards to highlight on this forum. Several posts ago, we featured a very interesting situation awareness and security threat management system created by some former Isreali Air Force members that drew some interest in this dashboarding community. So, we thought we’d check in on some Dashboard Spies (literally) at the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency to see what they’ve been doing in terms of dashboards.
The DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) is a DOD (Department of Defense – and you thought you had a lot of acroynms in the world of IT!) combat support agency with over 11,000 military and civilian employees located around the world. It produces and manages much of our country’s foreign military intelligence. The information feeds many of the U.S. military planning, operations and weapons systems acquisition efforts.
The DIA runs a dashboard application called Overwatch. They call it a VOC (Virtual Operating Center). It integrates multiple intelligence sources into a desktop intelligence asset dashboard. Basically it provides us with situation awareness of military information.
Here’s a peek at the Overwatch Dashboard:
“I have a hard time telling what a dashboard is these days. For example, what’s the difference between a portal and a dashboard? Even the terms are the same – “Portlet”, for example, is used in both paradigms to describe a little container of like subject matter.”
This recent comment by a Dashboard Spy reader rings true. There is a real convergence in thought, and in product offerings, making it hard to really differentiate between shades of dashboa rding. But, what does it matter? To me, they are all dashboards. Anything that consolidates information in a visual, concise fashion counts as a dashboard in my mind.
Anyway, speaking of portlets, let’s look at some dashboard screenshots from an Oracle Portal system. They officially use the word “portlet” to denote:
“Web components” which display excerpts of other Web sites and generate summaries of key information. These portlets can then be collected with other portlets so that users have easy access to frequently used sites and information, all from one page. Oracle Portal uses portlets to integrate both structured and unstructured data into a single, personalized view.
You can use portlets to access nearly any type of Web-accessible information, such as files published on the corporate intranet, reports on data managed by enterprise applications, and news or stock quotes from the Internet.
Thank you to the Dashboard Spy reader who grabbed these screenshots while investigating Oracle Portal. I think these images are of an older version, but still interesting to look at.
Let’s start by looking at an internal system screenshot. This is the utilities screen where you can create new applications, schemas, users and groups for your portal.
How much would you pay for a dashboard?
Dashboard Spy readers have heard me saying that Dashboards will become the ubiquitous face of Business Intelligence. Now, I’m more sure than ever.
IBM announced today a $5 billion bid for Cognos, the enterprise reporting company, whose executive dashboards I’ve featured on this blog. Of course, Cognos is not just dashboards, it’s an entire robust reporting platform, but the idea of the dashboard as front end is firmly entrenched in the company. IBM’s interest certainly validates the idea of the dashboard as an information visualization paradigm and user interface design pattern.
IBM is not the only one who loves Cognos and its dashboards. It has been reported today that HP and Oracle are possible rival bidders for Cognos. The final price may be a lot more than you think. Don’t forget that when SAP acquired Business Objects, it paid $6.8 billion. Wow – what a time to be in BI.
The fit between Cognos and IBM is strong. The IBM WebSphere Portal server and Cognos reporting platform has been solid for a long time. Take a look at this graphic of an IBM Portal Server Dashboard with Cognos portlets.
SharePoint Dashboard designers used to struggle quite a bit when using the earlier versions of Microsoft Sharepoint for their projects. While SharePoint offered collaboration and document management functionality quite easily, it was not a simple matter to customize the look and feel.
It was hoped that the latest version SharePoint 2007 would be much easier to customize in terms of the design.
In speaking with a Dashboard Spy about the matter, I was pointed to two very interesting posts that all dashboard designers interested in Microsoft Sharepoint should study.
The blogger is Cameron Moll, an Interaction Design Manager in Utah. Here is a screenshot from his blog (sorry to steal it from you, Cameron!)
His post titled SharePoint 2007 – Pointedly Unskinnable is a fascinating retraction of the earlier post titled Skinning MS SharePoint with Standards.
Very interesting reads that you should check out!
Tags: Sharepoint UI Customization, SharePoint Dashboards
Dashboard designers, actually information visualization gurus in particular, love the use of sparklines, those little trendlines created by Edward Tufte.
But popular dashboarding packages have not caught up with the designer demand for sparkline graphing and so when dashboard practitioners experiment with the integration of specialty products such as MicroCharts into major offerrings such as Microsoft BSM (Business Scorecard Manager) and PPS (Performance Point Server), the community takes notice.
Several times now, different Dashboard Spy readers have pointed me to a post by Nick Barclay titled PPS/BSM Sparklines in Scorecards in which he shows the results of using the MicroCharts sparklines in both a Business Scorecard Manager display and a PerformancePoint Server 2007 dashboard.
Here’s a screengrab of the BSM Scorecard with the resulting sparklines:
Next we look at the PPS dashboard with sparklines:
Dashboard Spy readers are everywhere – even within groups of ex-military. Thanks for these exciting dashboard screenshots from Isreal!
Dashboards add a lot of value to Situation Awareness and Incident Management systems. We are now seeing them appear more and more. Traditionally, security incident type systems are based on video only, but now the latest technologies allow for integration of video with animated simulations and enterprise dashboard displays. Perfect for situation awareness and threat management scenarios.
Today we look at the cutting edge work from a security firm based in Isreal called Rontal. This company was formed a few years ago by a group of Isreali Air Force pilots whose vision is to “apply modern aviation concepts to business applications”. Gee, guess what that means? Yep, these guys love cockpits and dashboards!
For years, we’ve seen those 3d animations where famous security incidents are recreated and analyzed (think JFK and the grassy knoll). For those not familiar, the Rontal boys provided this video of a typical facility animation for situation awareness scenarios. Now, the latest approach is to mix together actual video, these 3d animations, and model data right on top of the combined visuals – and all the while monitoring the situation via a digital dashboard.
It’s easiest to show you what I am talking about. Here is a screenshot of the main incident management dashboard. By the way, “incident” is defined nicely: “An incident is any mishap which distracts or negatively affects prescheduled activity in a specific site or facility, in aspects such as security, safety, and business continuity.”
As you’ll see from the following series of dashboard screenshots, their dashboard software allows inventory of the related assets of the facility, modeling of various threats, monitoring of incidents, planning of recovery efforts, and in extreme cases, the deployment of forces to retake the facility (yep – Isreali Air Force for sure!).
A Dashboard Spy reader liberated these little red/green/yellow color icons. He says that they are used by Google for various state indicators. Just thought I’d pass them along.
And this is an animated gif with the balls moving around in a “please wait” type of holding pattern.
Tags: Dashboard Icons, Red/Green/Yellow Indicators
Dashboard Spy readers know that I’m always trying to push the envelope when it comes to publishing dashboard examples and business intelligence commentary and news. By posting on the web his massive collection of business dashboards and KPIs, the Dashboard Spy has opened the door for BI interface designers and developers to see what each other are doing. The trend has caught on and we’re seeing a host of similar sites and resources appear. And that’s great news. The more we see from the troops in the trenches and the less we see of sales hype, the more mature this space will become. I encourage all of you to post the work that you do. Why rely on self-professed gurus, when your work can speak for itself?
The idea of the Dashboard Spy was like an idea virus (see the Seth Godin books further down this page) that has really caught on. Let’s see how far it goes.
Anyway, back to pushing boundaries and keeping ahead of the other dashboard commentators. I’ll be posting with more multimedia-based approaches. Stay tuned for both audio and video podcasts. In fact, I’ve just produced a theme song about the Dashboard Spy! Click on this graphic to play the song. Where else can you find songs about charts, icons and metrics?
Tags: Dashboard Spy Theme Song
Like many data-rich subjects, online marketing represents a challenge when it comes to clearly seeing real and actionable information. Cutting through the clutter requires one to stay focused on metrics with true meaning and purpose.
For example, web analytics dashboards that focus too much on click-thorugh rates and not enough on conversion rates will hurt the online marketer because he or she will “forget” that their real goal is to increase those activities that bring maximize ROI – i.e. bring the most conversions. How can that be, you ask. Are people that silly? Well, put a complicated dashboard in front of you with a thousand blinking metrics and you’ll lose sight of your goal too. Especially if you are just learning a new field.
Paring down your data world into those essential metrics that matter is the key to providing a valuable, easy to use dashboard.
Download the Essential Metrics Excel Dashboard for a look at how a simple, basic approach based solidly on a few key metrics can outperform much fancier dashboards.
This dashboard is provided by the hard-working Marketing Experiments team as part of their study on Improving Website Conversion: Essential Metrics for Online Marketers. Check that link for an explanation of the metrics used to track conversions. There is even an interesting, in-depth audio recording that explains the dashboard.
Here is a screenshot of the first tab of the excel dashboard.