Getting Acquainted with a Data Set

The other day my team was just kicking off a new business intelligence dashboard project and the client’s data modeler and DBA led us through a through of the data landscape. We were knee deep in entity relationship diagrams, data dictionaries and all kinds of data “stuff” that made my eyes glaze over.

I subsequently discovered Stephen Few’s fabulous article entitled “Exploratory Vistas: Ways to Become Acquainted with a Data Set for the First Time” and I thought to myself, “OMG, I should have kicked off the meeting with a joint review of Stephen’s approach to getting to know the data!”.

Here is the link to the pdf: Stephen Few: Exploratory Vistas

The intro:

When you lay eyes on an unfamiliar territory for the first time, it always makes sense to get an overview before venturing into the thick of it. An unfamiliar data set is like an unknown land. Unless you have unlimited time to wander (who does?) and don’t mind getting lost, it helps to study a map before starting out. If no map exists, then you should head for high ground to get the lay of the land.

Analytical journeys are quite different from vacationing in Italy or France. Leisure travel involves a series of destinations with the hope of enjoying ourselves along the way. We want to add sweet memories to our lives of the great meals, beautiful sites, and interesting people we meet along the way. When we embark on an analytical journey, however, we don’t pre-plan all our destinations and we’re not just collecting memories. The goal of the analytical journey is a thorough understanding of the territory, often to solve specific problems. We approach the journey as if we’re preparing to become tour guides, able to explain each site in a way that ranges from its history to predictions about its future. We must learn to navigate like a native.

I really like the part about using treemaps. Here’s a look at a Panopticon treemap:

Be sure to check his pdf for more!

The Dashboard Spy

Make the Logo Bigger

I just HAD to share this again. Recently, a client literally asked me to “Make my logo bigger”. I almost cracked up when he gave me the change request. Watch this video and you’ll see why.

How many times have you had to do something for a client or project sponsor that you KNEW was stupid? Well, this video will help you to “grin and bear it”. Yes, as a consultant, my job is to prevent the client from making the wrong decision, but sometimes you just can’t fight it.


Identifying Fonts

Sometimes during the design of dashboards and other business intelligence systems we find ourselves puzzling over what a certain type font is. Perhaps a client gives us an existing logo or graphic and we need to update something in it. Our preference is always to preserve the look and feel if possible and so we try and locate the exact font that was used.

I wanted to share in this post the “What the Font” resource that has become famous for helping people figure out exactly what the font is going on. It’s available at this url:

Be sure to take a look at the hints about how to format the image for best results.

Hope you graphic artists working on enterprise software projects find this helpful!

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy

Mobile Health Infographic

Thanks goes to Dashboard Spy reader Thérèse for alerting me to this interesting infographic on the booming mobile health field. The concept of mobile health revolves around using the now ubiquitous mobile toolset (cell phones, tablets, and other such devices) to transmit health related information such as blood pressure, blood sugar and similar vital signs to health providers for remote monitoring.

Here is the infographic:

Mobile Health Trends Infographic

Infographic on Mobile Health Trends

Here is the post that Thérèse pointed me to. BTW, Thérèse is a Project Manager in Healthcare IT, and can be found on LinkedIn at

Data Visualization Student Challenge

I just came across this data visualization contest held by the U.S. Department of Transportation. I missed the whole thing. Did any of you hear about this? The idea was very interesting. Too bad it didn’t receive more publicity.

Check it out at:

It’s worth visiting the site and looking at the finalists and winners.

Here’s a quick snapshot of a couple of the entries.

Our business intelligence dashboard tax dollars at work!

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy

Free Chart Icons for Your Business Dashboard

Dashboard designers and anyone who is mocking up business intelligence dashboards should avail themselves of the many free chart and graph icons that exist. Take a look at this screenshot and I think you’ll agree that these icons would work well for business intelligence applications.

You can download these icons and more at this link:

Use this as a jumping off point for your search for the right icons for your BI application.

Be sure to send us a screen shot of your app. We’d love to feature your design on

Design Elements for Dashboard Applications

Available as a free download for a limited time, the “Inspire” Backend Admin Template is presented as a PSD (photoshop) file. Even if you can’t personally open a PSD file, you should download this very helpful template for your development team or user interface designer. They’ll love you for it.

Here’s the link:

And here’s some screenshots of the graphic design elements the UI Kit contains:

2012 Information Technology Salary Guide

Dashboard Spy readers are always interested in knowing how their salaries stack up against others. How much does their knowledge of business intelligence and enterprise dashboards translate to in terms of a salary difference?

Here’s a direct link to the 2012 annual Salary Guide for IT professionals from Robert Half Technology.

While the report won’t tell you exactly how much your dashboarding skills will bring, it does mention that the focus of Business Intelligence was rated as one of the top technical skills in demand according to the 1600 CIOs surveyed for the poll.

The other hot skills are:

  • Network Administration
  • Database Management
  • Desktop Support
  • Windows Administration
  • Wireless Network Management
  • Web Development / Website Design
  • Telecommunications
  • Virtualization
  • ERP implementation
  • Business Intelligence

Here is the link:

2012 IT Salary Guide

The cover of the report:

What is Data Governance?

What exactly is data governance and why should you care?

Here are some characteristics of data governance programs. Data governance has a purpose, is cross-functional, requires resources (and hence project and program management requirements) and has multiple entry points.

Take a look at this excellent video to learn more:

The Dashboard Spy Song

Dashboard Spy readers seem never to tire of the Dashboard Spy theme song. I get questions every week asking for the mp3 file.

Well, did you know that there’s a video of the Dashboard Spy Theme Song? I don’t think it will ever make it on to VH1 or MTV, but, hey, you never know! Here’s the video:

Can’t believe there’s actually a song about metrics, portlets and data tables, right?

Hubert Lee
The Dashboard Spy