Management Transparency through Dashboards

Enterprise Dashboard Topic: Xcelsius Dashboard Case Study from The Dashboard Spy

Unless we’re careful, we dashboard designers may fall into the trap of becoming ivory tower theorists. Isolated from the nitty gritty of real life, we would be unable to tie our dashboards to the real wants and needs of our users. How so? Well, in designing a dashboard, we explore several fields that rely heavily on theory and fundamentals: usability, cognitive behavior, information visualization, data graphing and representation, graphic design, etc. In all these fields, we avidly read the rules and practices espoused by the core group of experts (often opinionated, always persuasive!) and sometimes risk going overboard and putting theory before the flexibility required by actual users. It’s easy to think that we (or the gurus) know best, when, in actuality, it’s the users (yes – contentious statement).

To turn this thought into a case study with a real, implemented business dashboard, let’s consider the situation today regarding rising gasoline prices. Sure, it’s hurting all of us, but those people in states with higher gas taxes really feel the pinch. Take a look at this great listing of state sales, gas, cig and alc. taxes. The gas taxes are used in various ways. In fact, they typically go to a multitude of different state agencies to fund projects of all sorts.

It’s in times of rising prices (and short tempers) that tax payers demand visibility into how their tax dollars are being spent. Management transparency becomes an absolute requirement by the public. Of course, the web and the rise of management dashboards fit this need very well.

The Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB) has taken a major step in terms of management transparency by putting onto their public website, an extensive performance dashboard. The TIB GMAP Dashboard was launched to the public on May 1, 2008 and provides visiblity of KPIs and metrics for the projects funded by their share of the tax revenue.

Getting back to the theme of real user needs versus ivory-tower thinking, this dashboard application shows the balance that can be struck between design principals and real-world contraints. It’s not the most “correct” BI dashboard implementation out there, but it will certainly be a hit with the users. The choice of Xcelsius and its flash-based interactivity has some nice glitz to it. While some charts and graphs may be better designed from an information visualization point of view, the level of utility is high. Check out the screenshot below of the use of sparklines to show historic trends – nice!.

After 4 years of internal use, user feedback and constant iteration, the team had confidence that the public would find not only great utility in the data, but a satisfaction from seeing how their tax dollars were being put to use. It took 4 years of evolution and listening to constituents that got the TIB to their current level of transparency. Good job!

Here is a screenshot of the Xcelsius dashboard:

Performance Dashboard for Transportation Project Management

If you are on the front page of the Dashboards By Example blog, be sure to click on the following “more” link to see the rest of this post as there will be a great video of this flash-based dashboard as well as more screenshots and business case documentation.

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5 Top Business Intelligence Tool Vendors According to IDC

Dashboard Vendors Hot Topic: Must-Read Business Intelligence Vendor Landscape White Paper Ranks Top 5 BI Tool Vendors: Business Objects, SAS, Cognos, Microsoft, Hyperion.

For more dashboard whitepapers such as this, use these white paper resource links: Business Intelligence White Papers | Business Trade Magazines  |   Information Technology White Papers.

Business intelligence dashboarders should immediately read the recently released paper (report dated July 2007 based on 2004-2006 data) written by IDC entitled “Worldwide Business Intelligence Tools 2006 Vendor Share“.

In addition to reviewing the “state of the union” in terms of BI tools and vendors, this excellent report offers some very interesting insight as to the ongoing adoption of business intelligence and dashboards by business users.

As defined by IDC, BI tools such as Dashboards belong to the query/reporting/analysis branch of the business intelligence tools section of the larger family of tools known as performance management tools and applications.

Here is a very interesting view of the taxonomy of business analytics software as seen by IDC:

diagram of idc business analytics software taxonomy 2007

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Video on the What, Who, How and Why of Enterprise Dashboards

An Enterprise Dashboard Video! This just out –  a Cnet news enterprise dashboards video segment by Shadan Malik, in which he white boards and discusses the basics of the what, who, how and whys of enterprise dashboards.

Well worth the 3 1/2 minutes to watch, this video provides a quick grounding of business intelligence dashboard basics. It’s a great shortcut to getting someone up to speed on the topic of enterprise dashboards or to someone on the IT side who needs to quickly articulate the business value and benefits of enterprise dashboards. The video explains the rationale and advantages of dashboards as well as a look at some implementation issues. I would rate this video as a “much-watch”.

This blog has long mentioned the Shadan Malik book, Enterprise Dashboards, Design and Best Practices for IT, as the only book available that focuses on the implementation of enterprise dashboards. The author has an excellent explanatory style that comes across both in the book and this quick video.

I’m excited by the growing exposure that enterprise dashboards is getting. I strongly believe in the visual orientation, user-centeredness, and business value of dashboards and look forward to their mass adoption as the face of business intelligence. Let’s all do our share in promoting the use of enterprise dashboards.

Shadan Malik Video on Enterprise Dashboards on CNET

Note: If your organization realizes the value of presenting metrics through dashboards but lack the in-house dashboard development knowledge, why not look in to the concept of OEM Dashboards?

Dashboard OEM is a concept where you simply use an off-the-shelf dashboard product such as that from Klipfolio to power your own dashboard project. Think of it as simply “embedded dashboards“.

Homework: Want to see a random sample enterprise dashboard screenshot from the largest collection of dashboards? You sure do!

Also: Who is Shadan Malik?

This from a profile found on the web:

Shadan Malik is the writer of the book Enterprise Dashboards: Design and Best Practices for IT and an architect at iViz Group. WIth 12 years of experience implementing, architecting and deploying business intelligence solutions and a breadth of experience in advance analytics, data warehousing and data visualization, he has worked with dozens of companies to architect and envision dashboard solutions such as scorecards, finance, operations, customer service, quality control and supply chain. He has two pending patents in the area of data visualization for dashboards, and he frequently speaks at various forums on the topic of best practices for enterprise dashboards.

Here is a sample of Mr. Malik’s thinking regarding the use of the “cockpit dashboard” metaphor:

David Nortonand Robert Kaplan draw the analogy between an aircraft dashboard and anorganizational need for similar information tools in their landmark book on the subject of Balanced Scorecards: Skilled pilots are able to process information from a large number of indica-tors to navigate their aircraft. Yet navigating today’s organizations throughcomplex competitive environments is at least as complicated as flying a jet.Why should we believe that executives need anything less than a full batteryof instrumentation for guiding their companies. Managers, like pilots, needinstrumentation about many aspects of their environment and performance tomonitor the journey toward excellent future outcomes.2If we agree that effective management of organizations requires informa-tion tools similar to those required by a pilot for flying an aircraft, we havea useful starting point to describe the basic characteristics of an organiza-tional dashboard. Contrary to the evident simplicity of an information dashboard, deployingan effective dashboard for a large organization is usually no less a complextask than doing the same for a jet. By no means do I mean to undermine thechallenge of developing cockpit dashboards handled by aeronautical engineers, but it would be fair to assume that all aircraft dashboards display the same set of key performance indicators (KPIs), such as the aircraft speed,altitude, direction, wind speed, humidity, fuel status, engine temperature, lat-itude, longitude, and so forth. The various aircraft manufacturers may havedifferent ergonomic designs for their dashboards, but essentially they allhave to deliver to the pilots the same set of KPIs critical for a successfulflight. The same applies to automotive dashboards. This leads to the ease ofreplication whereby an aircraft or automobile manufacturer may replicatethousands of dashboards in an assembly line to equip their aircrafts or cars,as the case may be.However, in contrast to an aircraft or automobile, each organization hasa set of KPIs that differs significantly from those of another organization.Even if two organizations are within the same industry or are close com-petitors, they rarely share an identical set of KPIs. Each organization’s busi-ness and organizational management has evolved differently, and eachdivision within a given organization has separate sets of KPIs relevant toitself. Finance, Supply Chain, Human Resources, Sales and Marketing—they all have their own set of KPIs that result in different types of dash-boards. Although many KPIs are commonplace and standard by definition,such as gross revenue, net profit, gross margin, asset turnover ratio, and soon, each organization has unique nuances of self-management. This diver-sity in evolution and need necessitates conducting a thorough and individu-alized requirements analysis in order to build customized and effectivedashboards for each organization. This provides a sharp contrast to the man-ufacture of thousands of cars and aircrafts with identical dashboards in an assembly-line process.

So who is the Dashboard Spy? No one really knows, but his growing collection of enterprise dashboard screenshots has captured the imagination of the executive dashboarding community. From excel dashboards and custom-built business scorecards, to xcelsius and flex-based visualizations, the dashboard screenshots at serve both as nuggets of inspiration and warnings of what not to do on an enterprise dashboard. These hits and misses will enlighten and entertain. Technology-neutral, and always business-driven, the Dashboard Spy website is the place to go to learn about the latest enterprise dashboard implementations.

Business Objects Crystal Enterprise Dashboard Screenshots

Business Dashboard Topic: Example of Dashboard OEM Solution. Continuing with the series of enterprise dashboard screenshots that go along with the Dashboard Spy post “Meta Group Rating of Vendors for Enterprise Reporting and Enterprise Dashboards“, we look at some enterprise dashboard screenshots from Business Objects.

In the study, Business Objects, with their Crystal Enterprise product, tied for second place with a rating of 5.4, tying Actuate. As Meta Group stated in their vendor ranking study:

Business Objects XI Crystal Enterprise and Live Office

The Business Objects XI release of Crystal Enterprise and Live Office is the most widely deployed enterprise
reporting and dashboard product in the industry. With the XI release, the Crystal Enterprise product is now
integrated with the entire Business Objects product suite. Business Objects maintains a leading presence in
the market through a large OEM and partner ecosystem. Business Objects finishes tied for second in the
overall vendor ranking, within one-fifth of a point of the leader.


• Best-in-class presence; one of two most often shortlisted products
• Best-in-class parameter processing, usability, and administration
• Above-average scores in distribution, scalability and performance, and pricing
• The BI Encyclopedia introduced in the XI release improves the metadata for end users


• Connectivity to non-relational legacy data sources requires support through Data Direct at an additional
• No real-time data access support or EII capability
• No check in/check out or versioning support for multiple developers

The exciting development at Business Objects since the release of the vendor study has been the acquisition of the flash-based Xcelsius product. We’ve featured quite a few Crystal Xcelsius enterprise dashboards here on the Dashboard Spy. The last enterprise dashboard screenshot below is an Xcelsius screen.

Crystal Enterprise dashboard

Crystal Portal

Performance Dashboard

Enterprise Portal Dashboard

Crystal Xcelsius Dashboard

Tags: OEM Dashboard, Enterprise Dashboard Vendor Ratings, Business Objects Enterprise Dashboards, Meta Group Evaluation of Enterprise Reporting and Dashboards, Dashboard OEM

PS. For an updated look at how dashboard oem solutions may benefit your company, check out the desktop dashboards by Klipfolio. They have a compelling dashboard oem solution for software vendors or for end users.

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