Birst Data Discovery

BI Solutions, Cloud BI, Data Visualization No Comments

Have just been watching a webinar replay “Data Discovery Beyond the Desktop” presented by Birst. Apart from looking like a very good  BI tool, I was impressed by their knowledge of data visualization principles. As most of you know, I have been rather outspoken about the poor design inherent in most dashboard and visualization tools provided by even tier 1 vendors. It’s such a relief to finally come across a vendor providing a data visualization tool that actually does understand how to format the presentation layer. Congratulations Birst. I was impressed – so just had to give your team a shout out 🙂

Suggest you check out the webinar:

BI Focus Moving From Dashboards to Data Mining

Analytics, BI Program, Data Visualization No Comments

The need for business visibility is finally leading to attention to BI in the executive suite. In a recent report by Aberdeen, it was found that 47% of BI projects are now being driven by senior executives, signalling  significant turn-around from past years.

With business landscapes changing so quickly today, business leaders are finally recognising that they can no longer rely on past experiences to make decisions. The move away from relying totally on gut feeling and supporting decisions with fact-based data is a significant turnaround – and one that is well overdue.

The window of time in which critical business decisions must be made is rapidly shrinking, and a lack of visibility into both the businesses current performance as well as the current market make decision making a risky business.

Interestingly, the study also claimed that those executives which are actively engaging with traditional BI reports and dashboards are finding that they raise more questions than answers. This is leading decision makers to deeper analytical tools – moving from a pre-defined to an an-hoc BI environment.

Aberdeen Benchmark Report – Visual Business Intelligence. Enabling Discovery and Delivery of Insight


Dashboards Seen As Important – So Why Is Dashboard Design So Bad?

Dashboard Design, Dashboards, Data Visualization No Comments

According to a recent study, dashboards were rated as the No.1 strategic Business Intelligence (BI) tool.

The Dresner Advisory Services’ 2012 Wisdom of Crowds Business Intelligence Market Study claims that 94% of respondents believe dashboards are “important”, “very important” or “critical” to the success of their BI program. No surprises there – but what does surprise me is how many dashboards are so poorly designed that they fail to capture the truth of the data they are representing.

The major issue is that dashboard designers have made the same mistake that web designers first made with the introduction of the Web. They took the layout and formats used in print – onto the screen. Most dashboards attempt to take the graphics and stories traditionally told in print or Powerpoint presentations, into Business Intelligence. It just doesn’t work – it never will work – so I really wish BI developers and dashboard designers would take a step back and think about what they are trying to achieve with a dashboard.

Dashboards are not just a graphical way to present a table of data – they are a visual representation of a business situation that is designed to be read and interpreted ‘in a moment’.

If you are engaged in dashboard development or design I strongly urge you to read this book.

Keep Your Eyes on the End Game

Big Data Analytics, Cloud Computing, Dashboard Design, Data Visualization No Comments

In business intelligence it is easy to get caught up in the data technology, the current obsession for ‘big data’, or producing as many dashboards as possible. However, none of this is as important as the end game  – extracting usable insight that will improve your ability to reach your strategic goals.

It frustrates me that BI vendors continue to pump out dashboard building tools that fail to deliver the basics of good dashboard design, yet they seem to have the resources to deliver new tools for big data. Whilst I am a great supporter of the ability to be able to extract market triggers, and explore data for possibilities, rather than rely on historically driven predictive analytics, there is a danger that we are losing sight of what we are aiming to achieve.

There are those who claim that big data is nothing new – are they missing the real value that Big Data delivers, and again, focusing too much on the technical definition, rather than the marketing definition? Data volume has always been an issue – and yes, virtualisation and cloud computing have certainly improved processing speeds. In-database analytics, and in-memory processing have also helped us get to the truth faster – but how fast do we really need to go? As humans we can only view, assimilate and make decisions at a limited speed. Rather than faster data – we need smarter ways of making decisions – robust decision models, statistical models to trigger alerts, to provide us with glimpses of a likely future outcome. Big data [as defined as social data and other data plucked from the marketsphere] is being made available in ways it never has been before. That is big news! That is a big jump from the market intelligence channels we once had to rely on. The key is in finding the value within this data.

I love technology innovation – but not at the expense of sound logic, readily dispensed, and in a format that is rapidly assimilated and instantly usable.

3 Considerations for Mobile Dashboards

BI Theory, Dashboard Design, Mobile BI No Comments

I was just reading an interesting article on Harvard Business Review called The Future Isn’t About Mobile, It’s About Mobility. It prompted me to remind you that if you are designing dashboards not to fall into the trap of just replicating desktop dashboard for mobile. Users of mobile dashboards are experiencing the dashboard in quite different environments, and I am not just referring to the small device screen. It’s not about making desktop dashboards mobile – it is about understanding the specific needs of users during mobility.

Here are my top 4 considerations when designing mobile dashboards:

  1. Lighting conditions – vary considerably and this can be especially difficult for those starting to feel the effect of aging eyes, where the range of light in which they have clear visibility is far narrower than for someone without presbyopia. Design dashboard backgrounds and fonts for fast reading. This is often completely opposite to what one considers ideal design for desktop dashboards. Viewing white letters on a black background is often easier in bright light, than black letters of a white background – but in desktop we use the exact opposite. Subtle colors get washed out in bright lights – but are ideal for desktop etc
  2. Time constraints – often users have just a moment to quickly glance at a dashboard – they don’t have time to dig down three levels to get to the combination of information they need. I read recently [I would credit the source if i could remember] a great description of the difference between mobile and desktop dashboards where mobile dashboards are for leaning out [just glancing], whereas desktop dashboards are for leaning in for analysis
  3. Security – think carefully about storing data locally on mobile devices. If you remember the above, that mobile dashboards are not a lean-in activity, there is little reason for cached data. Doing so creates a security risk worthy of close consideration.

That’s it for me – there are many other considerations, but the main one is to not be tempted to just replicate the desktop to the mobile. As the HBR article says, its not about mobile, it’s about mobility.

Animated Advanced Visualization

Data Visualization No Comments

As advanced visualization is gaining traction within academic circles we are starting to see some amazing renditions of massive volumes of data telling stories previously not possible to the same depth. This 4 minute animation is a perfect example:


Hans Rosling reveals the story of the world’s past, present and future development.

Evaluating Data Visualization

Dashboards, Data Visualization No Comments

Organizations are constantly struggling to quantify the not insignificant investment in business intelligence. In spite of this, according to a study by TDWI Research, adoption of data visualization technologies is growing by leaps and bounds. But what about levels of engagement with BI tools – are users ready to let go of there old reporting habits? The report suggests that we have a long way to go: Read the rest…

The Evolution of Dashboards

Analytics, Dashboards, Data Visualization No Comments

Dashboards are a visual representation of a complex set of data representing the state of performance of an organization, so that it may be viewed at a glance.

The last decade has seen a slow but perceptible evolution in dashboards.

What started out as simply a graphical form of report, is now being used very effectively as a performance management tool. The very exercise to filter down KPI to a succinct set helps the organization focus on what is really important. However, this is where many of the weaknesses in dashboard arise. With ever increasing regulatory reporting requirements, I am seeing more and more organizations focus too much on reporting KPI required by external bodies – rather than those KPI that better reflect a usable trend in performance. Read the rest…

Dashboard Layout Flexibility

BI Solutions, Dashboards No Comments

One of the frustrating things about many dashboard development software programs is their rigid grid structure that constraints good dashboard design. One might be able to size portals to suit, but are burdened with set margins and spacings. Set grid patterns are a nightmare when you want to size and position KPI to demonstrate relative importance and interrelationships.

Line spacings are also a drag, along with limitations on font formatting – the whole line has to be the same font type, size, weight. This doesn’t work well if you have a dashboard chart title, with a subtitle that adds some required extra information. Read the rest…

Choosing the Right Format to Display Your KPI

Dashboards, Data No Comments

In determining the best format for displaying a KPI on a dashboard you need to understand your data – its format and the profile of performance.

There are three types of data display:

  1. Raw – is purely a snapshot of what has happened in the past reporting period. This is suited to performance that is chunky [occurs without predictable frequency] and has high variability in data value. This KPI type is typically presented using bar graphs.
  2. Change – Often we are not interested in the actual value; we only want to know the percentage change. This might be an indication of growth rate. Using an above:below graph, with the horizontal axis set at 0; positive values above the line, and negative change values below.
  3. Trend – the most telling type of KPI graph is the line graph. This shows the trend of performance and is a greater indicator of whether action is needed than either raw or change representations.
Whilst I personally prefer to have all data in a trending style – this is often not appropriate or possible, based on the format of the data and the profile of the performance.

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