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Dashboards’ Role in a Business Intelligence Solution

by Andrew Wheeler, John Wiley & Sons. Inc.Monday, May 04, 2009

“Business Dashboards: A Visual Catalog for Design and Deployment” (by Nils H. Rasmussen, Manish Bansal and Claire Y. Chen) provides an excellent overview of designing and deploying dashboard applications.  We’re pleased to offer a one-chapter excerpt, which looks at a dashboard’s role in a BI solution.

This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

 

Some dashboards may be used completely stand-alone, but more typically they are integrated with—or deployed as part of—a larger business intelligence (BI) solution that serves a number of other performance management functions (see Exhibit 2.1).

ENTERPRISE PORTALS

One of the most popular mass-deployment platforms for dashboards is an enterprise portal. Also known as an enterprise information portal (EIP) or corporate portal, an enterprise portal is a framework for integrating information, people, and processes across organizational boundaries.

When dashboards that support portals are deployed, the resulting solution provides several benefits to an organization:

  • Users have a single location to access their dashboards as well as documents, presentations, and online discussions, along with other applications.
  • Single sign-on is made possible (as opposed to maintaining multiple passwords and having to log in to multiple applications).
  • Efficiency is increased as users can go to a single place to access a variety of related and unrelated information.
  • A central point is established for an organization to deploy many or all of its BI applications.


Please click on image for full sized version
EXHIBIT 2.1 Dashboards and Performance Management

Not all BI applications support portal deployments, but all web - based applications can be accessed through hyperlinks, and as such the links can be embedded in the most relevant areas of a dashboard portal page. This can aid users in providing access to information that has relevant context to a dashboard or a component on a dashboard. For example, a hyperlink to a detailed financial report could be placed next to a financial chart showing actual and budget figures for an entire Profit and Loss report.

DASHBOARDS AND STRATEGY

Once an organization has developed strategies and tactics, it can use strategy maps and scorecards that help managers visualize and track their goals and tactics. Modern dashboards (often as part of deployments in portals) can then display or integrate with these tools. Well - planned and well - designed dashboards can effectively display key performance - related charts and indicators together with strategy maps and scorecards to help an organization focus their employees on the most important performance - related activities and drivers.

DASHBOARDS AND PLANNING

What do dashboards have to do with planning? The main role of a dashboard is to provide a means for managers to monitor, analyze, and sometimes annotate (e.g., explaining variances in an embedded scorecard), and there are several strong ties to planning and budgeting:

  • Displaying, analyzing, and comparing historical figures with budgets, forecasts and targets
  • Focused dashboards for deep analysis of budgets and forecasts (For example, this can be particularly effective when dashboards are fully integrated with planning tools, and organizations utilize a continuous planning methodology. Managers can then analyze trends and variances in a dashboard, almost immediately revise a forecast, and then see it updated back in the dashboard in near real time.)
  • Monitoring and sharing of strategies across business units
  • Monitoring of resource allocation figures whereby business units can propose investments of discretionary funds in various programs and projects.

DASHBOARDS AND REPORTING

Although it is not typical to use major portions of a dashboard to display detailed reports (then it would be more like a “report-board”), it can be highly effective to embed links to reports within a dashboard. This provides managers with detailed views of information that can support analysis done in embedded scorecards and charts. These reports also offer a professional format for printing or e-mail distribution.

In addition, most dashboards do not reflect real time — that is, they are based on data that on a periodic basis is loaded from transactional databases into a data warehouse and into Online Analytical Processing (OLAP) cubes. However, in some scenarios, usually in operational dashboards, managers need to see detailed real-time information in order to support the analysis they do using a dashboard, and then real-time reports that pull data directly from the source database can come in very handy if the data is only a click away from the dashboard.

DASHBOARDS AND ANALYTICS

Most modern dashboards offer a number of important analytical features. These are important to users to enable them to answer most questions right from the dashboard interface without having to log in to other software packages or modules to do further analysis. However, for a number of years, while vendors are working on developing the “ultimate dashboard” that can do sophisticated analysis right from within the same interface, most business intelligence companies will connect the user to a separate module for such tasks.

A majority of the comprehensive business intelligence suites on the market today offer dashboards that are tightly (or lightly) integrated with powerful analytics modules that offer various functions such as heat maps, drill down, statistical analysis, data mining, predictive analysis, and the like. Together with business dashboards these specialized analytics tools further empower managers and analysts to support performance management initiatives.

The book can be purchased online from www.wiley.com

About the Authors

NILS RASMUSSEN, BA, MBA, is the CEO at Solver, Inc., an international company that provides implementation of comprehensive performance management, planning, analytics, scorecard, and dashboard solutions. He is the coauthor of three titles published by John Wiley & Sons.

CLAIRE Y. CHEN is the Chief Business Intelligence Architect at Solver, Inc., and the Microsoft Virtual Technology Specialist in Southern California region. She is well experienced in providing data warehouse and business intelligence solutions via multiple technologies in various industries.

MANISH BANSAL, BE, MS, is the Vice President at Solver, Inc., and advises companies on various ways to improve performance by leveraging technology solutions. He is an experienced management consultant who has worked across various industries and functional areas, with a special focus to deliver value.

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