Checklist for Evaluating Dashboarding Tools

checklistAccording to Gartner, Business Intelligence (BI) is one of Top 10 strategic technologies organizations will invest in the next few years. Dashboards play a significant role in BI to deliver concise high-level decision support information to decision makers. With so many Dashboarding tools available, the choice of right tool often boils down to the users of dashboarding tools. Typically there are four user groups that use dashboarding tools.

  • Information Consumers →  The decision makers who drive change management strategies based on the information presented. In certain cases Information Consumers could be the general public.
  • Power Users → The guys who build and publish dashboards.
  • Developers → The guys who build and maintain the information sources for dashboards.
  • Administrators → The guys who manage and regulate the hardware, software and application infrastructure.

With that in mind, this post provides a checklist for evaluating Dashboarding Tools from each user group’s perspective.

From Information Consumer’s Perspective

Information Consumers have the final say in the success of any BI initiative. With that in mind, from an Information Consumer’s perspective any Dashboarding tool must satisfy the following at a bare minimum.

  • √  Ability to present information in different layouts using slick graphical components like graphs, spark-lines, micro-charts, data bars, indicators alongside conventional grids.
  • √  Ability to present information within a reasonable response time and latency.
  • √  Ability to drill-down to required information with minimum clicks.
  • √  Ability to subscribe or unsubscribe from a list of available dashboards.
  • √  User friendly GUI’s that is easy to navigate and facilitates effective use of dashboards.
  • √  One that requires minimum training to get up and running.
  • √  Ability to export dashboard information to Spreadsheets, Presentation Slides etc.
  • √  Ability to toggle display formats. For example toggle a bar chart to grid.
  • √  Support for common windows actions like resizing, maximize/minimize, re-ordering of zones, printing and hide/visible.

From Power User’s Perspective

Power User’s play a significant role by building and publishing dashboards. From a Power User’s perspective the Dashboarding tool must be easy to use as a designing tool and as a rendering medium and must have the following features at a minimum.

  • √  Ability to create scorecards, graphs and notifications from a wide range of data sources (OALP, Relational, Spreadsheets and so forth)
  • √  Easy to use design mode that requires minimum training to get up and running with minimum assistance from the technical guys.
  • √  Ability to build parameterized scorecards, graphs and notifications.
  • √  Ability to create cascading Parameters.
  • √  Ability to created generic dashboards that can be personalized based on target audience.
  • √  Ability to create generic KPI’s that can be used in multiple scorecards with different parameters.
  • √  Ability to build dashboards where the components in different zones can interact with each other.
  • √  Ability to annotate dashboards and provide help on how a metric or trend is calculated. In some cases this would mean linking to page on an external web site using query string parameters.
  • √  Ability to version control Dashboards.
  • √  Ability to define security on Dashboards.
  • √  Ability to publish Dashboards to different groups of target audience.
  • √  Highly desirable to have a notification system which alerts the dashboard publisher if the underlying data structures are modified so that impact on dashboards can be analysed.
  • √  Minimal Impact if the underlying data source metadata/structure changes.
  • √  Ability to created cascading KPI’s

From Developer’s Perspective

Developers play a key role in building and publishing data sources. The quality of any dashboarding initiative is determined by the quality of the data source. From a Developer’s perspective, the dashboarding tool must satisfy the following criteria.

  • √  Ability to establish connectivity to a variety of data sources like OLAP cubes, Databases, Lists and Spreadsheets.
  • √  Ability to use the appropriate authentication methods to the data sources.
  • √  Ability to extend the functionality of the dashboarding tool using SDK’s.
  • √  Ability to program SDK’s in common programming languages that are well supported by the most vendors, well documented, having a significant development community base, supported by forums and blogs.
  • √  Ability to migrate extensions/customizations to newer versions of dashboarding tool with minimum effort.
  • √  Seamless integration with other BI components like reporting tools.
  • √  Ability to build reusable and scalable extensions/customizations.

From Administrator’s Perspective

Administrators manage the software and hardware infrastructure of the Dashboarding system. The following requirements should be met from an Administrator’s perspective.

  • √  Ability to scale-up or scale-out the dashboarding system to support concurrency and response time.
  • √  Ability to secure the dashboarding system based on roles.
  • √  Ability to use appropriate methods for authentication and authorization.
  • √  Ability to establish governance either by version control or by using workflows.
  • √  Ease of backup and restore procedures.
  • √  Ability to deploy customizations to different environments – either in incremental mode or full.

Dashboarding Tools like any other software have to be thoroughly evaluated to make it a worthwhile investment for your organization needs.

Benny Austin


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