Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

10 Keys to BI Dashboard Success: Part II


In my last post, I gave you 5 tips for taking your dashboards from “standard” to “world-class.” Today, I present 5 more tips that will help your dashboards become truly useful, essential daily viewing material.

Your BI dashboards should be:

6) Diverse. Incorporating data from your various in-house sources and from the cloud enhances your dashboard. Combining data to produce mashups – like retail locations with financials over Google Maps – can make your dashboard indispensable.

7) Dynamic. Static dashboards rely on historical data, neglect your organization’s present performance and set you up for failure, warns Forrester Research. Successful dashboards are dynamic and reflect the real-time changes of your business’ performance. They also offer ad-hoc capability so users can manipulate variables for further analysis and drill-down functionality so users can find root causes. See what I mean by downloading arcplan’s free trial. It features an ad-hoc tab integrated into the dashboard application.

8) Attractive. Users appreciate and are more likely to adopt a dashboard that has style and substance. What makes a dashboard attractive?

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Designing Olympic “A” Standard BI Dashboards


With trials for the 2012 Olympic Games in London almost complete, as a diehard trackie, I can’t help but reflect on the amazing standards that athletes must meet or exceed in order to qualify for their respective events. For instance, the “A” standard for the men’s 100 meter event is 10.18 seconds – that’s faster than the time it would take for many of us to boot up our computers. The standard for women’s high jump is 1.95 meters or about 6 feet, 4.7 inches – so an “A” standard athlete could easily clear the height of a very tall person. Olympic hopefuls work diligently to meet (or exceed) these high standards. Likewise, in a quest for excellence, we in the business intelligence world should strive to improve the design of our BI dashboards – the ones that guide our daily decision-making. We should be reviewing their effectiveness at least yearly. To that end, we’ve compiled a simple checklist to guide your dashboards towards the “A” standard.

Whittle them down to only the most relevant and timely information. With all the excitement around big data and the need to analyze vast amounts of information in order to spot trends, it’s easy to be swept away in a deluge of data and be distracted from what really matters. As excited as you (or the users you serve) may be to display all kinds of new information, remember that some data is a distraction rather than relevant to the decision-making process. So be cautious of the information overload that can hinder the effectiveness of your dashboards. Each organization must determine what really matters to decision-makers (this will vary between them) and center dashboards around the metrics most relevant to each department.

Implement appropriate design. When it comes to dashboards, looks do matter. But dashboards aren’t just eye candy. They’ve become a standard point of reference for business managers and executives who need to monitor company operations – often at a glance – in order to make timely decisions. In a 2011 interview with Dashboard Insight, Stephen Few, author of bestselling books on dashboard design and data visualization best practices (and also inventor of the bullet graph), explains…

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Mobile BI: Top 5 User Priorities


Mobile business intelligence is a necessity for executives, remote staff and sales people who need access to business-critical data at all times. Its benefits are numerous and go beyond return on investment. They’re often intangible and hard to describe (and therefore it’s sometimes hard to justify a mobile BI investment). There are many articles from the CIO or CEO’s perspective, but we wanted to hear directly from business users. So we surveyed arcplan clients and compiled a list of priorities for an effective mobile BI solution from the users’ perspective. Their priorities reflect what users around the world expect:

1. Value Beyond ROI
While management insists on concrete ROI for business intelligence expenditures, users are more concerned with the value of BI solutions in their lives. Mobile BI derives its value by delivering at-a-glance views of business-critical information at all hours of the day or night so whether users are traveling, in meetings, or in a different time zone, they can grab their smartphone or tablet PC and get information that helps them take action.

2. Freedom
As BI (literally) moves into the hands of business users, it delivers another important benefit: freedom. Specifically, mobile BI gives users the freedom to view reports as needed, without help from IT and without the limitation of an office setting. Mobile BI users include account managers en route to client sites, supervisors on the plant floor, and store managers who never sit behind a desk – all of whom need data to make decisions at all hours of the day. With mobile BI, different work schedules no longer stand in the way and users become more self-sufficient with the freedom to access information anytime.

3. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)
The “BYOD phenomenon” refers to users who bring their personal devices into the workplace and connect to the corporate network. It allows users to mix business and personal applications on their own mobile devices rather than carrying separate phones and tablets for work and life. Many mobile BI strategies allow for BYOD so users who prefer Android can use those devices even if the company regularly issues Blackberry phones, for example. In order for this strategy to make sense…

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Top 5 Collaborative BI Solution Criteria


Collaborative BI enables employees at every level to make meaningful decisions for their areas of responsibility, backed by easily-accessible information and analyses. With 15% of BI deployments containing collaborative elements by 2013 according to Gartner, it’s time to start evaluating the kind of Collaborative BI solution that will work for your enterprise. To help, we’ve defined the top 5 criteria you should consider:

1. Integration of disparate systems
Integration of varying systems is a challenge for most businesses, but one that can be overcome with the right Collaborative BI solution. Enterprises often have several different stand-alone solutions for BI in place as well as other decision-relevant – often unstructured – content that is disconnected from BI systems. Your Collaborative BI solution should act as a bridge between these disparate systems, connecting them with a simple search function that delivers results from multiple BI vendors, third-party systems like SharePoint or e-mail, documents, articles, and user-contributed content. It should also allow users to open and use any report, analysis, or document within the Collaborative BI interface so that switching between tools is unnecessary.

2. Flexibility & personalization
Collaborative BI systems must allow users to perform a variety of actions, from contributing content to bookmarking to knowledge sharing. The ability for users to submit content to enrich the Collaborative BI system is paramount for system affinity and adoption. Who better to contribute content than users themselves – those who are making everyday business decisions with their available data? Users must be able to upload relevant information and reports from external sources ( for example) as well as bookmark items as favorites. In our own Collaborative BI solution, arcplan Engage, users have BI Walls where they can pin frequently-viewed reports or snippets of dashboards. In this way, each user can configure their own personal Collaborative BI environment.

3. Availability on any device

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4 Things I Learned About BI Strategy from Playing Scrabble


I enjoy a good game of Scrabble, whether with a friend or with a fellow enthusiast online. Recently in a really close game, I was able to clinch my victory by strategically placing an “x” to spell “xi,” earning me a final 27 points. Though I’m no expert at Scrabble, I’ve picked up a few strategies that apply to the business intelligence world:

1) Planning matters.
Scrabble is all about planning and strategy. You may have a great word lined up on your rack but you can’t just play it anywhere. You need to plan ahead, consider your opponent’s next move and the remaining open spaces on the board. Similarly, your business needs to plan ahead and BI software facilitates that planning. Just like you lay out your Scrabble tiles over and over to plan for maximum word score, budgeting & planning software allows finance teams to perform monthly re-forecasting and rolling forecasts that help your business adjust to changing market conditions. The automation built into BI software makes it possible to be more forward-thinking since there’s more time for analysis and less manual data entry and consolidation.

2) Analyze the changing environment.
So you’ve just made your move and now you have to refresh your rack with new letters. The board has changed and so have your options. In Scrabble, your playing environment constantly changes just like in the real world. How quickly can your business react to market changes? BI software like arcplan enables what-if, best case and worst case scenario planning, which are critical to an enterprise’s long-term stability and growth. What about trend spotting? Maybe you notice your opponent tending to place 4-letter words, allowing you to somewhat anticipate his or her next move. Spotting and reacting to trends is crucial for businesses that want to compete. Do you have an analytic tool in place that allows you to visually spot patterns, analyze data on the fly for underlying causes, and make decisions that will move your company in the right direction? When businesses first get to know arcplan, the application we show them is a dashboard app that features an ad-hoc component. This app allows users to explore the patterns they see on their dashboard in greater detail. Business intelligence provides insight beyond just reporting; it’s the analysis that helps you make sense of the data and get insight that enables better decisions.

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