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Follow us on Twitter @Jinfonet. Check out these photos of the show:
BI Dashboards are intended to provide an at-a-glance overview of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) which reflect the state of business. They need to present relevant data that can be immediately interpreted and actionable, allowing users to make informed decisions. While a dashboard should present data as simply as possible, there are still a set of guidelines to follow and mistakes to avoid. This blog is intended to highlight the most common missteps in creating effective dashboards. For a deeper review of dashboard best practices, please check out a recent blog on Designing Better Dashboards.
Here’s a cheat sheet with five key points to keep in mind when building your dashboard:
Don’t overcomplicate the dashboard with too many metrics, components and complex visuals. The information and presentation should be as simple as possible so that it’s clear what it’s telling you. The presentation should not leave any room for interpretation as to what’s happening.
2. Incorrect metrics.
The selection and summarization of data should be based on the priorities of the business. The metric must indicate something that is actionable and able to be improved, rather than just a summary for information’s sake. When defining a metric, ask yourself if the value indicates some action that can be taken to improve the business. All metrics should be clearly mapped to a business goal.
3. Building too much at once.
The rollout of the dashboard doesn’t have to be all-encompassing and permanent from the beginning. Each new metric is a benefit on its own and with the right dashboard tool, additional components can be easily added in stages. A periodic evaluation of the relevance of the visualizations and metrics is also important, so your dashboard changes along with the business.
4. Inappropriate visuals.
Visual components are the best way to present summary data, because they are intuitive to interpret. On the other hand, they must not be distracting or ambiguous. Don’t use pie charts to represent data over time. Don’t use line charts to show proportions between values. Tables shouldn’t be over-formatted and unnecessarily distracting. A good approach would be to start with nothing but a black and white display and add additional formatting and color with a specific intention.
5. Too much (or too little) interactivity.
Another challenge in giving your users useful and actionable data is understanding the appropriate level of control that they will need for decision-making. Some users will require a high degree of control over multidimensional data, needing to drill down into details with speed and ease. Others will require a short, to-the-point overview of their data so that they can make quick, informed decisions. Before building anything, you should fully understand all your end users interactivity needs. Don’t be afraid to spend some more time in the planning stages in order to speak with your users – they’ll thank you later.
If you want to learn more about the techniques that go into building great dashboards, or if you’re looking for an easy-to-use dashboard tool, sign up for our Daily Live Demo.
More businesses are standing up private clouds, deploying their apps and data to public clouds, or even using a combination of these in hybrid clouds. No matter which cloud model your business chooses, its essential for your BI solution and reporting software to also be cloud-based. The solution should be able to connect to data in the cloud while being easy to use, accessible from anywhere, self-serviceable, and highly scalable.
We have supported JReport running on Amazon EC2 for some time. As the shift in computing to the cloud gains momentum, there is naturally a need for an extended BI solution that could run entirely in the cloud – not only for the BI platform itself, but for the business data as well.
Amazon’s answer to the problem of cloud data management is through new solutions such as Amazon Redshift, which is a fully managed, petabyte-scale data warehouse service, and Amazon RDS, which is a fully managed relational database service. Both of these powerful solutions are easy to get started and get setup.
With the seemingly endless amounts of storage that public cloud providers can offer, business data is becoming more complex, voluminous, and harder to manage. Extracting the “gold” in this data through visualization thus becomes a harder problem. We’ve addressed this cloud-based data visualization through our partnership with Amazon. We now integrate with Amazon Web Services (specifically Redshift and RDS) to provide support for scalable, elastic cloud visualization solutions. Customers now have the option to run their BI reporting visualization solutions entirely in the cloud with all the benefits of a mature BI platform offered by JReport, and the security, elasticity, and scalability of Amazon’s cloud storage.
Visit our Amazon Redshift partner page.
Read our recent press release about our partnership with Amazon.
Try out JReport for free.
Join our next webinar on how JReport can visualize your data in the cloud.
Are you interested in the current state of Business Intelligence (BI)? Do you want to know what vendors and products you should be on the look out for in the near future? And most importantly – do you want to share your input?
This is your chance.
The 2013 Wisdom of the Crowds ® Business Intelligence Market Study is an annual survey of the state of the Business Intelligence marketplace, independently conducted by Dresner Advisory Services. The findings, published Spring 2013 (and complimentary for qualified participants) will build on previous years’ research and will expand to include questions on the latest and emerging trends such as Collaborative BI, BI in the Cloud, and Embedded BI. The study will also rank vendors and products, providing an important tool for organizations seeking to invest in BI solutions.
In an effort to make the survey as accurate as possible, all BI users are invited to contribute their thoughts, findings and insights.
Want to contribute and receive a complimentary copy of the results? Click here to start!
We hear a lot of discussion about ad hoc reporting and self-service reporting. Are end users really capable of understanding what data they need to see and designing a report for their own requirements or is it easier for them just to make the request to IT and wait for it to be delivered to them?
My first experience with databases was with a network database sold by Intel called System 2000 that was one of the most popular databases in the 1970s and is still in use today. Later I joined a new database vendor called Unify that started the same year as Oracle. Unify also was originally a network database and didn’t have a fully relational model until 1984. Obviously we were not as aggressive in marketing as Larry Ellison even though we had a better product.
Over the years many products have attempted to make SQL more approachable by end users and maybe the most successful has been Microsoft with Access and Excel with their query design wizards. But in practice, it is too difficult to understand the schemas of real enterprise applications, and management will not allow end users access to corporate data through SQL where small mistakes could create huge resource usage as well as result users with invalid results. A better solution is needed to allow users to easily create queries and reports.
Is there a solution available that does allow end users to create their own reports and get data directly from the up-to-date transactional corporate database? Yet at the same time still ensure the SQL is properly written and security roles strictly enforced to ensure the data is accurate? Also the query must not use too many resources and the user has permission to access the data.
Yes, the answer is JReport, which provides a meta-data layer that isolates the user from the actual SQL code that selects the data from the database. In JReport, we call this a Business View of the data. Using JReport Designer the developer creates the queries to access the data and provides the security information based on the user’s role and permissions as to what data the user can see. The Business View is an end user’s view with understandable field names and categories of fields such as group fields, detail fields and aggregations. The user simply drags the fields on to the report as detail, groups or summaries and JReport accesses the database with the pre-defined query template so the joins are always valid and the data is valid for the user’s security permissions.
If the query is already written, how can it be as efficient as possible when user’s request reports with summarized data such as charts, crosstabs and summary tables? JReport’s answer to this is called push-down technology. Whenever a report needs aggregated data based on the groups in the Business View, JReport automatically overrides the pre-defined query keeping all of the joins but adding aggregations and Group By clauses so the database will perform the computation and only the summary data needed in the report is returned to JReport. This ensures the query will always be as fast as possible and the developer does not need to create imported queries for every possible grouping and aggregation the user might need.
A major concern for all customers is what impact ad hoc users have on system resources. What if there are a lot of users who need to do analysis and reports from the same data and everyone creating and running their own ad hoc reports is too much of a load on the server? In this case, the JReport Server administrator can schedule a Business View in-memory cube be created and updated on a regular schedule. This is transparent to the end users. The existing and new reports will automatically start using the data from the in-memory cube that is shared by all users. What if the reports need detail data? That’s covered too because the cube generator can also optionally save the detail information on disk cache that is still shared by all users without making queries to the database.
How does the IT group ensure that reports created by end users follow the same standards as managed reports created by developers? JReport allows the developer to create templates for the user to start with pre-defined styles, colors, logos, and default labels and images that the customer wants to use for each report. This ensures that the ad hoc reports created by the users are consistent with reports built by the IT department.
Besides the ability to create new reports, end users have the ability to modify existing managed reports and save them for their own use. Almost everything on a report can be changed by the end user.
Here are some examples. The managed report has a crosstab that is grouped by quarters (of a year), but the user wants to see the results broken out by month. He can simply drag the month group onto the table and it is added.
What if a table is grouped by category and the user wants it completely changed to a report by country and state? Again he can right-click, select Go To -> Country then drag state in as another group.
No matter how you design the table, the user can modify it to their needs by adding detail fields and changing and adding groups. Even if the detail field needs to be calculated such as margin from price and cost, the user can create their own formulas and aggregations and add them to the report.
For charts the user can also open the chart wizard and change everything on the chart including the type of chart. He can even change the chart to a crosstab.
For crosstabs the user again can change every item in the crosstab including all the rows, columns and aggregations to meet their needs. This is usually easier to an end user to learn than creating a report from scratch since mostly it is just clicking to drill down or right-clicking to choose new groupings.
All of these functions, even though they are not ad hoc reporting in the purest sense, are self-service reporting which in most cases is easier for the customers to learn and be comfortable with.
One more feature of JReport I want to bring to your attention. What if you cannot create queries, imported SQLs or stored procedures that provide all of the data at the right detail level for your users? You have one additional option. You can use dynamic SQL using a Business Cube. A Business Cube is another meta-data layer but laid directly on the tables and views of the database and not on top of pre-defined queries. You define them the same as Business Views with the same groups, measures and detail items but the query is not defined. The system is set up with pre-join conditions so users do not need to worry about joining data. If the user drags fields from two tables onto the report then JReport knows how to define the join in the resulting SQL dynamically generated. This gives the user much more flexibility, if they choose for example just fields from the customer table such as name and addresses the report will contain just a list of customers without duplicates. If they then add fields from the order table they will get a list of customers duplicated for each order and showing the fields selected from the order table. If they add line items from the detail table then they get a row for every customer, order and line item. So you can see this is the most flexible solution because from one Business Cube, JReport will generate any combination of SQLs required to get the data the user wants.
Didn’t have time to attend our “Visualization and Dashboards with JReport” webinar on January 16? Not to worry, you can always catch the full recording on our website, or check out one of the highlights from the webinar below.
Access to timely, actionable information is one of the biggest assets in today’s data-driven world. Advanced visualization capabilities allow you to quickly convert raw data into easily understandable visual elements, giving you access to the whole picture faster and ultimately reducing your valuable time-to-decision.
But is there a tool that’s easy-to-use and completely customizable on-the-fly (read: no IT involvement necessary), interactive, and has advanced visual elements?
Indeed there is. JDashboard, a part of the JReport suite allows power users to easily and quickly build, deploy and modify their completely custom dashboards.
Let’s take a look.
Easy-to-use + completely customizable
With JDashboard’s highly intuitive, drag-and-drop dashboard building utility, users can create custom dashboards on their own without having to wait for IT.
JDashboard provides intuitive features for mashing up different components conveniently pulled from the Component Library. The Component Library can hold any number of pre-built components for users to select from such as tables, crosstabs, and more than 40 chart types including motion, scrollable, and real-time charts. Users also have the option of reusing existing reports and their components by dragging and dropping them directly to JDashboard either in a new tab or as individual components. Additionally, JDashboard gives users the flexibility to pull in external resources by providing easy API integration with 3rd party components like Google Maps or other webpages.
Now that you have your dashboard set up with your custom components, how do you interact with your data? With JDashboard, data exploration is a snap. Apply on-screen filters, slider controls, drill downs, and more to get a granular view of your data. Set parameters at the dashboard level for individual components or groups of components for a more in-depth analysis. And when you’re all done, save, print, export and share your whole dashboard, or its individual components.
Advanced visual elements
As they say a picture (or in this case a screenshot) is worth a hundred words. Check out some images of our sample dashboards below. Not enough? See the entire process from start to finish in our webinar, featuring an in depth demo of JDashboard’s interactive capabilities.
Dashboards are a hot topic and are referenced by almost every business intelligence vendor and analyst who covers the BI industry. However, there is a lot of confusion about what a dashboard is and how they are implemented. Is a dashboard a portal style interface where the user can choose what components or even applications are viewable like Yahoo’s portal? Is a dashboard simply a report shown in a browser with charts on it? Does a dashboard contain aggregate information or detailed data?
A dashboard should be a high level view of the current most vital information about the data needed to easily identify problem areas. A report on the other hand is based on detail data generated from specific searches and parameters and although it may contain graphs or charts the main component is showing detail data with summaries. It is often scheduled and printed, which in these cases may not show current data when viewed.
Actually there are no specific technical requirements for an application to be a dashboard. A dashboard could be implemented as a report that is scheduled and available for a manager to display in his Web browser each morning. A dashboard could allow the user to move components around and choose components to add and delete or it could be totally fixed by the IT department. It may refresh frequently or it could be static and updated daily.
Stephen Few who has written several books on dashboards provides this definition:
“A dashboard is a visual display of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives, consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance.”
There is nothing other than the terms visual display and single screen that indicate what technology is needed for a dashboard. It could be a browser or it could be a thick client application or possibly even a PDF file containing links. The key points are that it needs to provide a visual display of summarized information that can show at a glance if there are any problems that need to be addressed.
Gartner has a very similar definition: “This subset of reporting includes the ability to publish formal, Web-based reports with intuitive interactive displays of information, including dials, gauges, sliders, check boxes and traffic lights.” Gartner goes on to say that 4-6 KPIs should be enough for most users and more than that tend to be distracting and make it more difficult to pick out the key indicators. This means it is best if the user can easily choose which components he wants to see at any given time rather than go back to IT to change it as his requirements change.
In JReport we show examples of dashboards that are written as Page reports, Web reports and our newest product, JDashboard. Each of these allows the user to drill down to more detail and isolate the root cause of any issues highlighted by the dashboard. However, even though this level of interactive analysis is not specifically required for a dashboard according to Few’s definition, JReport does in fact provide this in all reports and dashboards. JDashboard actually extends this by enabling users to create their own dashboards by dragging components from existing reports or component libraries, while still allowing users to quickly drill into the detailed data to identify problems.
Why is JDashboard the best solution for making a dashboard then if any technology can be used for a dashboard? Take a look at another portion of the description and it becomes clear. “… the most important information needed …”. What this implies is that the requirements of what goes into the dashboard changes over time, role, and market conditions. The best person to decide what is most important is the end user looking at the dashboard and using the information to make decisions. Thus it isn’t really practical for a user to constantly go to the IT department to ask them to modify the dashboard if it is designed as a Page report or Web report. Using JDashboard, the user can easily select from predefined components designed by IT or by other users or can create his own components in a Web report and drag them into his dashboard. Lots of choice and flexibility. As his roles or needs change he can easily replace components he is no longer interested in and add components that are useful for current decisions.
Dashboards should show groupings of strategic items with objectives such as provided by a budget or a plan, key measures, metrics (KPIs), and graphics such as stoplights that provide quick identification of each measure’s performance. For example, we may have a goal of 10% year over year sales growth so we would need last years sales, this years sales, % growth and a graphic showing red, yellow or green for each product or product category and capability to drill down to more levels of detail to identify root cause of any issues. A particularly good component for dashboards is the bullet chart that easily shows poor, average or good performance with the actual values, plan values and at-a-glance view to identify problems.
What else should we look for in a well-designed dashboard? Besides how we are doing according to our plan, it is often important to visually see trends so our mind can easily identify where problems will occur in the future even if the KPI is currently ok. These tend to be charts displayed over time. With JReport’s live chart features users can play a chart over time using a motion chart or a scrollable chart to drill into specific time intervals so the user can easily see trends before they become major problems. Bar charts, line charts and bubble charts are well suited for visualizing trends.
Often the relationship between values is not over time but between geographic areas or categories such as products or expenses. In these types of charts we are not looking for trends so line charts and bubble charts tend to not make sense. Most common is vertical bar and horizontal bar (bench) charts. Although pie charts are popular consider, using a bench chart instead to show the relative size of each group within the whole. It is easier to visually measure the width of each bar than estimate the area of each pie segment.
A particular general consideration in creating effective dashboards is color. Use color only when the color can add value and meaning to the dashboard. Using color just to add bright images probably will get some wow factor the first day or two of usage but quickly become bothersome and distracting. Keep in mind the main point of the dashboard is communication in a simple, easy to understand way with whatever combination of text, charts, and tables that communicate the information needed to make decisions.
Hopefully this breaks down what a dashboard is and gives a sampling on some good design decisions. For an in-depth review on designing dashboards, attend my session “Designing Dashboards as Effective Visual Tools” at JReport Summit 2013, our online conference in April.
Ref: Information Dashboard Design, Stephen Few, 2006 O’Reilly Media, Inc.
Ref: Gartner RAS Core Research Note G00171685
OLAP (On-Line Analytical Process) data storage solutions have been available from the 1990s to solve the problem of keeping tabs on KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). OLAP cubes are more efficient than relational tables because only dimensions and aggregated measures for each dimension are stored in the cube. Running queries against the transaction oriented OLTP (On-Line Transaction Process) tables often require too much time and too many resources. Typically the OLAP cubes are updated daily or weekly as the schedule permits and users can interact with this historical data to understand past performance and be made aware of trends to predict future performance and be able to react quickly to KPI exceptions both good and bad. For example, in the fashion industry buyers have a very short window of 1 or 2 days to decide whether to reorder if sales are good or cancel orders if sales of a product are lower than expected.
There is a major installed base of OLAP products but there is less interest in OLAP tools now as customers realize that these tools are not designed for transactional systems. Since these systems experience frequent updates and large data volumes, the OLAP cubes extracted from them are often out-of-date.
A better solution has been developed and was enabled by 64-bit processors and vast amounts of very low cost memory. People realized that by directly accessing transactional relational databases and creating in-memory cubes they could still get great performance, interact with current data, answer questions about their data and monitor KPIs without an expensive OLAP product.
Leveraging this concept, JReport allows users to view their KPIs and do real-time analysis of their data without extracting the data into traditional OLAP cubes. Instead, a cube structure is simulated in memory directly using SQL queries on relational databases.
With JReport you can use the same dashboards and reports to directly access the relational database, access cached datasets from disk, access in-memory cubes containing just aggregated data, or optionally, access all of the detail data for drilling in to root cause problems. JReport is a full BI platform that provides a common tool for building ad hoc reports, dashboards, and interactive analysis using new components or reusing existing components.
To hear an in-depth discussion on how in-memory cubes increases performance for data analysis, attend our session on “Performance Tuning for Fast Reporting and Analysis” at JReport Summit 2013, our online conference on April 2.
The past year has been a big one for Jinfonet, as we’ve rolled out a new and improved dashboard tool, the new JReport Mobile app, made vast performance improvements to our flagship JReport, and established some exciting plans for the future. Now that it’s December, we’re taking a look back at our major accomplishments this year (and giving you a hint at what’s to come in 2013).
This year saw JReport’s 11th version release back in April, featuring added performance, charting and visualization enhancements, as well as more options for simple creation of advanced dashboards.
Brand new in 2012, our JReport Mobile app now allows users to view dashboards anywhere, anytime via iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. The app is free on the Apple App Store and gives users instant access to their critical business information no matter where they are.
Not stopping there, we just recently released a ton of features and performance in JReport 11.1, giving our customers speedy analytics using in-memory cubes and push-down technology to increase overall report performance and allowing reports with aggregations to run up to 100x faster. The release adds even more charts and customization for dashboards.
What’s more is that we continued to deliver high-quality, impactful monthly webinars giving best practices, configuration tips, and new product information, which you can find here. And we had a great show at JavaOne 2012 where we connected with over 600 attendees and gave hundreds of demos!
Next up, we have exciting developments planned for 2013. We can’t give all the details yet, but expect some major announcements next April at JReport Summit – Jinfonet’s user conference for BI solutions – held near our headquarters in Washington, DC during the cherry blossom festival. Check out information on the conference here and stay tuned for more details in 2013.
We’ve had an exciting year and we’re looking forward to even more next year. We wish you and yours a safe and happy holiday season and a great 2013.
The Jinfonet Team
Tags: Ad hoc reporting, BI, Business Intelligence, Dashboards, Embedded Reporting, Happy Holidays, holidays, Java reporting, JDashboard, Jinfonet, JReport, JReport 11, JReport Mobile, Visualization, Web Reporting, Webinar
Jinfonet Software today announces that JReport 11.1, the newest release of our Java reporting software, is now available. The new release has a ton of exciting upgrades and added features, including increased performance and even more customization features. Read the press release on JReport 11.1 here.
JReport 11.1’s speedy performance can make reports run up to 100X faster than ever before, and new options for interacting with your reports and performing instant, on demand analysis help deliver the right information to help you make the right business decisions.
To learn how JReport 11.1’s new features allow faster report generation and analysis, please join our December 12th webinar.
Take a look below for a sample dashboard of the new version!