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Mashboards: New Tools for Self-Service BI

There is an emerging type of dashboard product that enables power users to craft ad hoc dashboards for themselves and peers by piecing together elements from existing reports and external Web pages. I’m calling these “Mashboards” because they “mash” together existing charts and tables within a dashboard framework. Other potential terms are “Report Portal,” “Metrics Portal,” and “Dashmart.”

I see Mashboards as the dashboard equivalent of the ad hoc report, which has spearheaded the self-service BI movement in recent years. Vendors began delivering ad hoc reporting tools to ease the report backlog that afflicts most BI deployments and dampens sales of BI tools. Ad hoc reports rely on a semantic layer that enables power users to drag and drop predefined business objects onto a WYSIWYG reporting canvas to create a simple report.

Likewise, Mashboards enable powers to select from predefined report “parts” (e.g., charts, tables, selectors) and drag and drop them onto a WYSIWYG dashboard canvas. Before you can create a Mashboard, IT developers need to create reports using the vendor’s standard report authoring environment. The “report parts” are often self-contained pieces of XML code--or gadgets--that are wired to display predefined sets of data or can be easily associated with data from a semantic layer. Power users can apply filters and selectors to the gadgets without coding.

Mashboards are a great way for organizations to augment enterprise or executive dashboards that are designed to deliver 60% to 80% of casual users’ information needs. The Mashboards can be used to address the other 20% to 40% of those needs on an ad hoc basis or deliver highly personalized dashboard for an executive or manager. (I should note that enterprise dashboards should also be personalizable as well.)

Dashmarts? However, there is a danger that Mashboards will end up becoming just another analytical silo. Their flexibility lends themselves to becoming a visual spreadmart, which is why I’m tempted to call them Dashmarts. However, Mashboards that require power users to source all data elements from existing reports and parts should minimize this to some degree.

All in all, Mashboards are a great additional to a BI portfolio. They provide a new type of ad hoc report that is more visual and easily consumed by casual users. And they are a clever way for vendors to extend the value of their existing reporting and analysis tools.

Posted by Wayne Eckerson on February 16, 2010


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