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The Use Of Rich Media To Increase Dashboard Interactivity

by Lyndsay Wise, President, WiseAnalyticsTuesday, March 2, 2010

Dashboards continue to gain popularity within organizations.  Essentially, they are the new and easy way to access data and conduct analyses without having to perform business intelligence deep dives.  Alternatively, dashboards give decision makers better visibility into data and provide increased interactivity with information.  Now that companies are beginning to use dashboards more actively, the demand for an increase in ease of use, interoperability and advanced feature sets has pushed the market toward the use of interactive and animation-based dashboard interfaces.  This gives customers the added benefit of embedding Flash and Silverlight functions into the development of business dashboards.

This article discusses the increasing market demand for dashboards and the related adoption of rich media use.  This article also provides an overview of rich media for dashboards.  In addition, it reviews the business case for interactive dashboards and looks at some benefits and challenges organizations should consider when looking at more advanced data visualization use.

Market demands and the new dashboard

Because dashboards provide a visual way to manage performance, set targets and gain more visibility into business processes, the interest and adoption of dashboards is increasing rapidly.  Organizations are expanding from sales operations towards managing sales pipelines, their supply chain, and their workforce.  The ability to use dashboards on a continual basis to identify what is currently happening within a business creates a current and forward-looking approach to analysis that has been lacking in its traditional BI counterparts.  With the value of business intelligence being perceived as giving companies a view of what has already happened, dashboards offer the connection to what is happening now and enable organizations to start developing what-if analyses to plan and manage short-term and longer-term goals.

As dashboards gain more visibility in the market place and become one of the main ways companies gain insights into what is happening within their businesses, demand for robust and dynamic interactions become essential.  For instance, once organizations understand how their sales pipelines work, they will want to interact with their data and develop various scenarios on the fly to understand which potential accounts should take priority over others.  This means that dashboard requirements move from standard charts and graphs towards interactive maps and visualization components that change dynamically to reflect real-time data updates or new insights based on developed scenarios.

This driving force behind dashboard requirements has pushed many vendors to continually improve their solution offerings and integrate rich media into their dashboard products to enable advanced analytics and interactivity.  Companies already familiar with dashboard design and use, or those embedding dashboards within other solutions, are looking for features and functionality that incorporate rich media into their design to give end users more flexibility in their overall dashboard use.

Market trends and expectations

With popularity of rich interactive applications and increasing adoption comes a greater expectation from organizations.  Even though more dynamic visualizations do not necessarily correlate to more effective analytics, the ability to sell mass consumption of dashboards is partially contingent upon the “wow” factor.  Organizations want a pleasing end user interface that enables dynamic interactions.  The implication for designers is that there is an increase in requirements combining design with effectiveness. Companies are required to balance their business requirements with relevant designs and dashboard interactivity.  This means that organizations are consistently weighing the concepts of analytics for the masses and the ability to create rich interactive experiences with their business and technical requirements.

Even though ease of use is an important factor for any dashboard design, varying frameworks exist that either encourage advanced data visualization design or alternatively, believe that keeping things simple is the best way to manage a company’s performance.  Either way, organizations are moving towards incorporating higher levels of interaction within their dashboards to help increase the perceived interactivity and end-user control.  Whether adopting simple or advanced designs, businesses are still looking at incorporating new design features as a way to enhance technology use and interact with their systems in a way that puts the user in control (without being guided by the constraints of solution features and functions).

The benefits and challenges of using rich media within dashboards

As with every new technology fad, some groups have a tendency to implement new technology or solutions for the wrong reasons.  With the advent of web 2.0 and the increasing ease of use of computers for personal use, solution providers and organizations are looking to achieve the same thing within businesses.  Instead of deploying solutions that require training and are targeted towards only a subset of employees, the new goal of dashboards is the ability to reach a broad audience with multiple functions within the organization - and give them the freedom to develop the analyses they require to make informed decisions.  Consequently, rich interactive applications help organizations achieve this by making solutions more visually pleasing and easier to use, which in turn leads to higher levels of end-user adoption. 

Even with the benefits of more interactivity, ease of use, and general adoption, organizations are still required to be cautious about how and why they move towards interactive dashboard adoption.  As with any new project, companies have to balance their design choices with the features and functions required.  This means that in some instances, integrating rich interactivity comes as a second step after an initial dashboard deployment.  In all cases, matching design to business requirements is the most essential element with enhanced design being the second step or even more of a bonus in some cases.  Either way, organizations should consider which interactive components enhance their initial dashboard design before signing on for an advanced dashboard.

Implementation considerations and takeaways

Looking at interactive dashboards and how they should be implemented follows the same methodology as any other dashboard or general BI project.  Companies should look at what they have in-house, the business needs of their employees, and future dashboard use in addition to the system and technical requirements.  Because of the constant evolution of features and functions within dashboard design and deployment, the ability to adopt an interactive approach to dashboard use can be painless.  Solution providers are now developing their solutions to include Flash and Silverlight functionality so that businesses can implement these types of solutions without additional implementation requirements or added time to deploy.

About the Author

Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at lwise@wiseanalytics.com. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.

(Copyright 2010 - Dashboard Insight - All rights reserved.)

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