RESEARCH & RESOURCES

What Makes a "Performance" Dashboard?

What separates a "performance" dashboard from its vanilla dashboard brethren?

Nowadays, everybody says they have a performance dashboard, but how many would-be performance dashboards actually make the cut?

To frame the issue another way: just what separates a so-called "performance" dashboard from its vanilla dashboard brethren?

According to dashboard specialist Corda Technologies, it's easy: look for a combination of interactivity, user self-serviceability, and collaboration, coupled with role-based security and best-in-class alerting features. If a dashboard doesn't deliver on all of these accounts, Corda officials argue, it isn't really a performance dashboard.

Those are just the features that are in Corda's latest update of CenterView, its flagship performance dashboard offering, announced at TDWI's World Conference in mid-February.

"It's a single [dashboard] interface that can be used by everyone [in an organization]: from directors to power users to people playing what-if games," says Leslie Proctor, marketing and communications manager with Corda.

"It all starts with our data visualization technology," Proctor continues, alluding to Corda's venerable PopChart charting and graphing software. "That's what we've always done, so [users] can see if something starts dropping out of range. That can actually be done now for the individual user. The individual user can say, 'I want an e-mail, if it [what I'm tracking] goes outside this [given] range.' That's just one of the new [alerting] features."

On the user-self-serviceability tip, CenterView 3.0 boasts the requisite drag-and-drop design environment (via its CenterView Builder component). Users can combine graph types to form compound charts -- such as Pareto charts -- create gauges based on shapes of their own design (or based on industry standards, such as the bullet graph) or create process flow maps and other data visualizations.

"Drag-and-drop" is frequently misleading, of course: while it's relatively easy to deliver a drag-and-drop experience on the front-end, it's considerably more difficult to enable it on the back-end -- at least when it comes to connecting (seamlessly or otherwise) to all of the data sources that users, empowered by the ease of a drag-and-drop design environment, want to bring into the mix. In CenterView 3.0, Proctor maintains, drag-and-drop really is as straightforward as it sounds: users can build "datafunnels" that facilitate access to data stored in spreadsheets, databases, and other data sources.

Datafunnel types include inline (i.e., tables of data that can be used by dashboard tables or Corda Images); files (i.e., spreadsheets); databases (i.e., relational or multidimensional data stores); df-include (in which users manipulate, modify, add to, or delete from an existing datafunnel to create a new datafunnel), df-query (i.e., a new type that runs SQL queries against one or more existing datafunnels), and df-external (a new type that consumes data supplied by an external plug-in).

CenterView can also consume data from software-as-a-service (SaaS) platforms, such as Salesforce.com. Corda customer United Capital Financial Advisors is using it to do just that, feeding data from Salesforce.com to users in 13 different North American field offices.

"This is patented technology that allows very fast connectivity to the data source. As long as you have some sort of external [e.g., ODBC, JDBC] connectivity, it delivers this fast access [to data]," she indicates.

"The idea is to hide [the complexity] from users. As far as they're concerned, they're working with these [datafunnels], which they can build themselves or [which BI developers] can build for them."

Thanks to CenterView's ability to combine multiple data sources (via Corda's df-include datafunnel type) or to run custom SQL queries against one or more datafunnels (via Corda's df-query datafunnel type), users can quickly construct sophisticated dashboard views that consume data from a bevy of different sources, Proctor points out. "One of our selling points is rapid implementation. United Capital was able to build live dashboard in minutes."

John Rome, director of business intelligence for the Arizona State University, chose Corda's CenterView as a complement to Hyperion's Interactive Reporting tool. CenterView -- which Rome says is a powerful application development environment -- was better suited for non-power users.

"The main thing we were trying to solve is how to make the cost of consumption easier. We used Hyperion Interactive Reporting, but we just implemented PeopleSoft, and the learning curve was huge -- so while our original plan was to bring up Hyperion Interactive reporting, we realized that was [a better fit] for power users, and we really needed something for our less sophisticated users," Rome explains.

"[Corda is] an app dev environment, so of course it's not going to be as easy [to deploy] as a Business Objects or a Cognos or a Hyperion, but the learning curve was easy. We literally just hired ASU students, and they just got in there and were able to figure out the tool relatively quickly [and were] able to access the data sources really quickly." ASU is preparing a massive CenterView roll-out -- in this case, to its entire student body, Rome says.

"We recently have it where all of our students will be using the Corda product in a dashboard, soon to be released in the next week. Every student will be able to sign into a page and … see whether they're on track for the appropriate courses in their major," Rome explains.

"We're really happy with [CenterView]. We've been in the data warehouse space a long time. We think [CenterView] is a great tool. If you want to create a quick chart or graph, instead of going to build it and bring it in as a PDF or JPG, you can actually set it up as a live object, where it gets updated very quickly. That's great for our users."

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