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Finding the Best Dashboard Product

by Cindi Howson, BI Specialist, BI ScorecardTuesday, June 01, 2010

Dashboards are one of the hottest BI tool categories, because they provide everyone from executives to customer service representatives an at-a-glance view of the business in an appealing interface.

To find the best dashboard product for your company, you’ll want to start with some education and scope definition.  Then follow this 9-step evaluation process.

Get educated

The concept of a dashboard is nothing new, but the technology is. Before dashboards there were executive information systems, static dashboards, and stand-alone dashboard systems. Today’s better dashboard products are highly interactive, sometimes integrated with a BI suite, and offer access to both strategic and operational information.

To understand the nuances of different dashboard products, educate yourself by attending industry webinars, reading product reviews by multiple analyst firms, and test driving demo applications. Read articles and books on best practices from both a design and business perspective. I recommend Stephen Few’s and Wayne Eckerson’s books.

What kind of dashboard?

The IT industry is abuzz with buzz words! So are you really looking for a dashboard, a scorecard, or a visual discovery tool? A scorecard contains a list of key performance indicators (KPIs), often drillable to show root cause and interdependences. In a balanced scorecard, these KPIs will be linked to strategy maps and focus on KPIs in four main areas: financial, customer, internal processes, and learning and innovation.

A dashboard usually does not include strategy maps, but it often includes KPIs. These KPIs can be strategic (customers gained or lost in the current month) or operational (the number of callers on hold right now). Many dashboard products are better positioned for strategic and management applications, whereas fewer are suitable for operational applications. One of the main differences that makes a particular product better suited to an operational dashboard is the technical architecture. An operational dashboard has to support near real-time data updates. Strategic and management dashboards may require less frequent updates.

Visual discovery tools and dashboards are interrelated. Visual discovery tools are unique in the way they allow users to interact with data in a highly visual way. Many have dashboard capabilities. Conversely, not all dashboard products have advanced visualization capabilities.

If at this point, you are wishing that all these nuances were rolled into one type of product, you are not alone! But the products aren’t there yet

What’s your scope – BI standard or open selection?

According to BI Scorecard’s 2009 Successful BI Survey, 57% of companies have standardized on a BI platform. Most BI suite vendors have a dashboard capability. Any selection, then, should naturally start with assessing what capabilities you would get if you purchased and deployed this module from your predominant BI vendor. However, for many BI platforms, the dashboard modules are newer and less robust than what you might get in a specialty product. As part of your project planning, determine under what criteria you will also look at pure-play dashboard products.

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