Microsoft Silverlight for Dashboards

Continuing our examination of cutting-edge business dashboards using RIA (Rich Internet Application) technologies, we now look at the state of the art of Microsoft Silverlight dashboards. Never heard of a Silverlight dashboard? Well, it’s no wonder. By comparison, business intelligence dashboards using Flash, Flex, AJAX and other RIA approaches are commonplace. Working silverlight dashboards, however, are hard to find.

Because of the vast differences between older versions of Silverlight (current version is 2.0), dashboard examples found on the web often no longer work. Additionally, not everyone wants to bother with downloading and installing Microsoft Silverlight.

What exactly is Microsoft Silverlight? Roughly speaking, it’s a competitor to Flash/Flex technologies with some unique advantages and disadvantages. It is highly interactive and can be used to create slick, highly-polished applications with a big wow factor.

Infragistics, the long-time third-party component vendor that Dashboard Spy readers no doubt know, has been working on a set of components for Silverlight. They put together a sample demo application called faceOut that you have to check out. It’s a demo that shows off Silverlight and its application to scorecards and dashboards.

You’ll need Silverlight 2.0 installed to view the faceOut demo. Because not everyone wants to install it (or as often the case in enterprise environments, not allowed to install software), we’ve provided a Dashboard Spy video that gives you a sense of the interaction of the sales dashboard.

Let’s take a look at the video. Be sure to click on the more link to view the rest of this post, as I’ve also found a nice wireframe of the dashboard by the Infragistics designers.

And here is the video I captured of the Infragistics Silverlight dashboard. Click on the image to visit the video.

Video of Silverlight Dashboard

The above embedded video is in flash format and shows the Infragistics faceOut Silverlight Dashboard demo. If you’d like to download a higher resolution avi file of the silverlight dashboard to watch locally on your machine, use this link: Dashboard Video.

Did you like that catchy Dashboard Spy theme song, by the way? It’s still the only song out there about business intelligence! Now on to some more info on this Silverlight dashboard:

The Infragistics blog has some great behind-the-scenes information about their focus on Silverlight and its applicability to BI dashboarding. Visit the post, faceOut – Our latest Silverlight App for nuggets such as these dashboard wireframes.

silverlight dashboard wireframe by infragistics

silverlight dashboard mockup

And here is the actual screenshot of the Silverlight sales dashboard:

silverlight dashboard screenshot

Here is some great info on the project I’ve excerpted from the post.

If you want to get an overview of what we’re doing with Silverlight, go to our Focus on Silverlight area. We’ve published a high-level roadmap there and that’s also where you can get an intro and overview of faceOut (as well as launch it or download it).

The app itself is a salesperson dashboard that mashes up “representative sales data” (read: Northwind!) with Windows Live Maps (a.k.a., Microsoft Virtual Earth) and uses the Windows Live Contacts schema for easy mashing with that service. We prepped the app for the Live Contacts integration, but it’s not hitting the Live Contacts services in this release.

The Silverlight client uses WCF services as a bridge/basic service layer. Of course, we could in theory hit the Live services and even Northwind on Astoria directly using the new cross-domain support, but using the service layer allows us to control the actual provider of the data. So you can have an “offline” version that uses local XML data as it is setup to do now. The nice thing about the service layer is that you can pretty much arbitrarily decide where to get the data from.

The UI is a blend of prototypes that UXG built to test out some ideas we have for SL controls (rich tooltip, rich tab, transient message, HTML host, etc.) as well as early prototypes of Infragistics Silverlight controls (chart, gauge, scrollpanel, and monthview, for example). In addition to the controls, of course, is the glue that makes the UI a real, functional LOB application.

Over the month of February, UXG and VDG worked together with early prototypes of Infragistics’ Silverlight controls that our SL development team has been working on. It was definitely a fun, interesting, and challenging experience getting to work with the early SL 2 bits from Microsoft.

It started with a simple vision doc that took into account our various goals – to use our prototypes, build something meaningful for LOB, integrate with internet (Live) services, and maybe give you an early jump on building something with Silverlight.

The next step was our in-depth, up-front architecture.

From this, we set ourselves free to start hacking away at it. You can see the final version online; it’s pretty darn close to our detailed specs above. We naturally refined the design and functionality as needed throughout development, cut things here and there that needed trimming and/or turned out not to be feasible, and completed in the timeframe we set for ourselves. Silverlight rocks! [And so do our engineers and designers! :)]

You can go now to download, play with, reuse, and maybe even learn from the application source and start tweaking around with the IG controls if you like.1 You can also just launch it right now to experience faceOut now. Enjoy!

Be sure to visit both the blog and the demo itself after watching the video!

Tags: Silverlight Dashboard, Microsoft Silverlight 2 dashboards, Video of a silverlight 2 demo, Dashboard Spy Theme Song, Business Intelligence reporting, Infragistics Silverlight 2 Demo, faceOut.

Related Resources:

http://www.simple-talk.com/dotnet/.net-framework/silverlight-skinnable-user-interfaces/

Essential Silverlight 2 Up-to-Date Oreilly Book Essential Silverlight 2

Value of the embedded dashboard: Firms that recognize the importance of KPI reporting but don’t have dashboard expertise in house can use an embedded dashboard for their enterprise applications.

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