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Mashboards Catch The Wave

by William Laurent, William Laurent, Inc.Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It was inevitable.  BI dashboards and their users became more sophisticated, much quicker than any of us could have imagined.  BI dashboards have grown up into real-time “mashboards,” where users have a huge portfolio of data and corresponding operational functions at their immediate disposal.  For example, from a vanilla PDA or mobile handheld device, a user on-the-go is now able to glean a complete picture of their supply chains - making sure product inventory is keeping up with outstanding (or anticipated) orders, while at the same time having the capability to see how each product is performing in various marketplaces along demographic and geographic dimensions.  All this can be done without having to exit the application that is running in front of them; knowledge or insight about all supporting systems or applications is simply not required.

With dashboard technology, a virtual portal evolves (think of an artist’s canvas with corresponding paints and brushes).  This evolution has given us the mashboard, where a single pane of glass contains a multitude of information and layered functionality which has been delivered and enabled by centralized and massively sharable web services.

While mobile business intelligence has been drawing inspiration and momentum from the mashboard concept, it is the integration of social networking functionality that will ultimately position mobile BI applications as mission-critical components of corporate IT strategy.  With business power-users finally able to blend, manipulate and share real-time snapshots of corporate performance on their own mobile screens, the clamor for mobile BI will continue unabated.  The next phase of mobile BI will see mashboards advance in complexity - where BI power users are able to create their own intelligent agents (web services, customized data cube snapshots, etc.) and distribute them in “waves” to complex networks of interested parties for further customization, feedback and collaboration.

In a recent development that will greatly benefit and stimulate mobile BI, Google has been quickly moving beyond the status quo of business collaboration (i.e., Microsoft’s SharePoint model) - they are revitalizing the way clusters of business users communicate, collaborate and interact with each other, and with vital business knowledge.  With their new user interface/platform for federated collaboration, the opportunities for mobile BI are increasing once again.

With the Google Wave communication framework, users will be able to better embed BI into their daily operational tasks and leverage productivity tools that are already in place (such as Excel, World, etc.) for communication, analytics and reporting.  A wave merges the best aspects of modern-day electronic communication: A wave is part email, part instant message and part document, with real-time collaboration and change management.  In Google Wave, communication threads are not one-dimensional (such as email where each message sent is appended to the previous messages, requiring all responses to be stored in a user’s inbox to achieve a clear continuity).  Waves are multi-threaded shared conversation objects composed of distinct messages and attachments, referred to as “blips,” which can be comprised of simple text or complex multimedia.  Conversations (waves and blips) can branch out to form tree-like hierarchies of historical communication.  Any participant of a wave can reply anywhere in the message tree, i.e., respond and attach their photos, rich text, videos and audio files to blips within waves.  Corresponding IM communication in a wave can be conducted in absolute real time; for example, participants type and view text in real time (letter by letter) so that live conversations are speeded up - no waiting for an interlocutor to type a message and then issue instructions to send their messages (i.e., press a “send” button).

For jaded wiki users, Google Wave gives collaborators a nifty level of transparency.  Recipients are notified of changes/replies in all waves in which they are participants.  They also have the ability to view all changes that have occurred in a wave by using a "playback" feature in Google Wave.  The playback feature lets users easily observe the order in which a wave was edited - i.e., what new blips have been added and who has been responsible for what.  In addition, a historical search may be issued on a number of fields, such as “user name” in order to track and view specific changes.

Similar to the wiki concept, participants can edit content and add participants at any point in the lifetime of a wave and at any location in the wave; however, a more robust history of changes is saved in the wave’s metadata for complete historical transparency.  Meta data that exactly describes historical wave collaboration gives users crucial audit-trail information that can be used to better police collaboration and enact version control and concurrency control.  Knowing who made what changes to what thread or content also ensures that contributors are highly accountable for their actions.  If you are familiar with data mashups, then you should have no trouble understanding the tenants of BI mashboards.  And if you understand the spirit of mashboards, you can then start to understand how mobile BI canvasses will change the landscape of BI forever, as users collaborate and work together in waves.

About the Author

William Laurent is one of the world's leading experts in information strategy and governance. For 20 years, he has advised numerous businesses and governments on technology strategy, performance management, and best practices´┐Żacross all market sectors. William currently runs an independent consulting company that bears his name. In addition, he frequently teaches classes, publishes books and magazine articles, and lectures on various technology and business topics worldwide. As Senior Contributing Author for Dashboard Insight, he would enjoy your comments at wlaurent@williamlaurent.com

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