GMaps Plugin for Xcelsius Dashboards

The ComputerWorld Best Places to Work Dashboard was a mashup that featured a Google Maps component. I particularly liked seeing that on the dashboard, so I decided delve into the details of how Google Maps was incorporated into the Xcelsius 2008 dashboard.

It turns out that the functionality is achieved through Xcelsius plugins from Centigon Solutions. Ryan Goodman, the founder of Centigon (and Dashboard Spy reader and contributor – see Xcelsius Gas Price Data Visualization) was kind enough to participate in a Dashboard Spy interview. He explains their approach as well as his opinions on Xcelsius 2008 as a business intelligence platform.

But, first, let’s take a look at a demo dashboard put together by Ryan to demonstrate the plugin components for Xcelsius 2008. You can try out the Google Maps for Xcelsius Demo Dashboard for yourself at the link.

GMAP googlemaps plugin for Xcelius Dashboards

The Dashboard Spy Interview with Ryan Goodman:
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Xcelsius Present Dashboards Bashed

The battle regarding the value of business dashboard glitz continues with the introduction of the latest BusinessObjects Xcelsius 2008 offering. It’s now easier than ever to create business dashboards with slick visual interfaces complete with shiny reflections and flash interaction.

Is this business charting bling a good thing or a bad thing? It depends on who you ask. Business users and executive sponsors typically love the professional look and wow factor. Data visualization experts tend to shake their heads and cry.

The new Xcelsius Present visualization toolset has received a “few” knocks recently (pun intended – as its detractors include infoviz expert Stephen Few).

Presented as a point and click data visualization tool for creating “stunning and meaningful visualizations”, there is no doubt that Xcelsius can easily produce eye candy crack for us graph junkies. “Stunning” is not in contention. “Meaningful”, however, is what the debate is going on about. Worse yet, as Excel guru and dashboard curmudgeon (just kidding!) Jon Peltier of PTS Blog shows in this pie chart example, the reflections in the slick graphics can interfere with data comprehension.

review xcelsius present 2008 pie chart

Click on the “more” link for the rest of this post about the new Xcelsius dashboard product:

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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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Xcelsius Dashboard – Project Management

Update: Xcelsius 2008 Dashboard example

ALso, this post on Designing Dashboard Alerts has become very popular. Be sure to check it out.

Dashboard

Topic: Project Health Dashboards

Dashboards are best experienced through working demos. Well, actually, they are best experienced as a regular user on the actual implementation, but let’s assume you can’t get someone to grant you hands-on-the-keyboard access. Most of the time on this blog when we discuss business dashboards, we have to settle with screenshots and descriptions. Sometimes, however, a Dashboard Spy reader will lead us to a working prototype or demo so that we can experience the interactivity of the system first hand. This is especially critical with the current generation of rich interface applications.

Today, courtesy of Inverra.com, we look at a demo of a Business Objects Crystal Xcelsius dashboard. This dashboard was implemented for the project management staff at a large company to check on the in-flight status and health of their projects. Here is the link to the project management dashboard demo and here is a screenshot:

Project Management Dashboard

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Human Capital Dashboard Tracks Strategic HR Metrics Using Xcelsius

A Human Capital Dashboard addresses what was deemed a weakness in HR measurements – that companies gather human resource metrics but don’t use them strategically. A 2004 survey of senior executives, managers and HR professionals showed a wide gap between HR KPI collection and the use of that information as a management tool. See Human Capital Metrics: Most Users are Missing the Point.

Enterprise Dashboards, of course, are excellent in providing actionable business intelligence and are tools used to bridge gaps such as these.

Thanks to a Dashboard Spy over at Inverra, a consulting company with a focus on performance dashboards and scorcards, we get this great live demo of an Xcelsius Human Capital Dashboard. It really works hard to address that gap between knowledge and action by providing human capital metrics that are grouped in an intuitive and helpful way. Let’s start by looking at the screenshot of the dashboard:

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