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dashboardA BI dashboard — or business intelligence dashboard — is an information management tool that uses data visualization to display KPIs (key performance indicators) tracked by a business to assess various aspects of performance. They aim at simplifying huge amounts of data, into simpler insights that can been easily understood and used. The purpose of any BI dashboard is to help business users make better-informed decisions by letting them gather, consolidate and analyse their data. And when the data is presented in a visually comprehensible manner, it becomes easier for informed decision making.

Defining business dashboard needs

Business dashboards are typically used to drive decisions based on a technology-driven approach to analyse and visualize information.

Therefore, an effective dashboard would need to do the following:

  • Consolidate charts and graphs on a single screen, providing the reader with a big picture of the situation.
  • Be adaptable to the industry, domain or function in context
  • Be detailed enough to capture finer data and numbers for an effective analysis
  • Include easy-to-use tools that support the full analytic workflow — from data preparation and ingestion to visual exploration and insight generation.
  • Have the ability to self-service and be agile enough to be configured.
  • Include accelerators such as self-contained in-memory engine to ensure fast performance, support for rapid prototyping, etc.
  • Ability to ingest data from unstructured as well as structured sources with same ease and effectiveness

Assess your priorities and objectives

The number one goal of a dashboard is to inform its audience on a deeper, more meaningful level.  Several BI dashboards are available in the market. However, in order to choose the one best suited for your needs, you first need to list out the business priorities and objectives for the dashboard. Since BI dashboards come with several considerations as listed in the earlier section, it becomes important to select the key priorities to focus on – that would help choose the right dashboard for the business need.

You can define and assess dashboards on the following product capabilities

  • Agile, centralized BI provisioning: Supports an agile IT-enabled workflow, from data to centrally delivered and managed analytic content, using the platform’s self-contained data management capabilities.
  • Decentralized analytics: Supports a workflow from data to self-service analytics, and includes analytics for individual business units and users.
  • Governed data discovery: Supports a workflow from data to self-service analytics to system of record (SOR), IT-managed content with governance, re-usability and promotability of user-generated content to certified data and analytics content.
  • OEM or embedded analytics: Supports a workflow from data to embedded BI content in a process or application
  • Extranet deployment: Supports a workflow similar to agile, centralized BI provisioning for the external customer or, in the public sector, citizen access to analytic content.

Here are also some questions that you can ask yourself that will help you decide the right BI tool to use

  • Are the users new to BI dashboards or are they experienced?
  • Do you need ready to use features or want to configure and define functionality that is specific to your need?
  • Do you need ready-to-use templates and dashboard formats?
  • Do you prefer intuitive UI that gives ease of use, or agility to program and customize the user interface of the tool?
  • Will your business benefit from group analytics, or collaborative information?

Choose the right tool based on your need

Once the business priorities and objectives are clear, it becomes easier to select the right BI dashboard for your needs. Some of the major players in the market are listed here, along with reasons why they would be best suited for business.

Sisense – Sisense enables businesses to collate, analyze and view data, which can be used in making sound business decisions and to come up with strategic plans. Some of the features of this tool are:

  • It aggregates all needed information into a singular dashboard with its drag-and-drop functionality for easier granular view of your data.
  • Users can come up with reliable analysis using visual reports as a basis, making the process far easier and hassle-free.
  • The dashboard interface is easy to use, allowing users to learn system navigation quickly and easily.
  • It also offers intuitive data crunching.

In summary, Sisense is a dashboard tool that is a good choice for beginners, who are new to using BI solutions. If you are looking for scalability, extensibility, and flexibility, you will need to have API expertise to use the Sisense API and build the required functionality.

Datapine – Datapine connects all your data sources in a unified location and creates detailed visualizations to help businesses comprehend their data better. Some features of this tool are:

  • It has high data integration capability, making it effortless for users to connect and analyze information across various sources, including CRM, ERP, various documents, and others.
  • The tool is simple and easy to use. Even non-tech savvy users can use the software’s capabilities without experiencing a steep learning curve.
  • The tool provides some readymade data dashboards that help provide a clear picture of your goals, progress, and other information that can help you drive growth to your business.

In summary, Datapine is useful for most businesses where data is coming in from various sources and quick templates can be used by users to access pertinent information in modern data dashboards.

Tableau – A leader in the BI market today, Tableau aids businesses in visualizing and making sense of data.

  • It enables organizations to connect, visualize and share data through PC or iPad.
  • Users can easily create dashboards, publish and share them with colleagues, partners, and customers without the need for programming knowledge.
  • It can connect to numerous information sources and import and visualize information in a very short time.
  • The tool is intuitive, facilitating ease-of-use and allowing data analysis using drag-and-drop functionality.
  • It fosters collaboration, allowing for group analytics and has a native mobile app that allows users to access it from any place.

Tableau is a popular choice for most businesses that are looking for data agility, speed and ease of use, collaborative functioning, and advantage of group analytics.

SAP Business Intelligence – This is a tool that brings in lot of intelligence in the way data is analyzed and presented for business use.

  • It makes use of data-backed insights on customer behavior, thus allowing the data to be more meaningfully represented
  • It is equipped with a plethora of business analytics tools that include ad hoc querying, data visualization, data monitoring, and data consolidation.
  • You can generate reports in a few clicks of a button, customize them according to your preferences, and even distribute the findings across your company quickly yet securely.
  • It is equipped with open API features, making it a highly configurable platform that can adapt to the specific needs of any business

Zoho Analytics – This is a suite of robust tools that are easy to use, highly configurable, and easily extensible.

  • It allows you to streamline the aggregation of data from multiple sources, speeds up the generation of reports, as well as simplifies the visualization of data for presentations.
  • It has REST API capabilities that allow it to integrate with a multitude of third-party systems so you can collect data from your existing software solutions automatically.
  • It has a scalable interface. With this, it is easier for you to process data no matter how extensive or limited your data-sets may be.
  • It has collaborative work-spaces that can support teams with as little as two members to as big as 50 members in case you need to discuss data analytics reports.

Microsoft Power BI – Another popular choice, this is a self-service business intelligence tool for analyzing business data and sharing insights via rich visualizations.

  • Comes in a desktop and a cloud version.
  • If you want to do more advanced stuff and deeper data exploration, the desktop version is suitable.
  • The cloud-based Power BI Service provides an easy way to create dashboards.

Looker – This is a cloud platform that makes it easy for data analysts or non-technical users to access and explore their data.

  • It is a lightweight “data exploration” tool for SQL databases (and more) that allows you to “look” into your data without writing any code or SQL.
  • Non-technical people can model their data source (LookML) and turn that into an API.

Qlikview – This tool is suitable for data-savvy people and for those with a developer mindset. If you want to play with data, this is one of the favorites choices.

  • It is a great visualization tool for guided analysis.
  • It provides its own ETL engine and the ability to write code and develop great reports and analytical dashboards.

Open Source tools – You can also choose from several open source tools that are easily available today. The advantage with these is the ease of availability, lack of license cost (although you may have to pay training and support costs). Some options are:

  • Metabase is a simple, lightweight, tool that non-technical savvy users can run their queries. Their UI is quite abstract, but you can run your own SQL in advanced mode.
  • BIRT is an open source technology platform used to create data visualizations and reports that can be embedded into rich client and web applications. It is a top-level software project within the Eclipse Foundation with an active developer community.
  • Jaspersoft was acquired by TIBCO and supported by a big developer community. It provides reporting including web-based reports and dashboards, data integration tools and data visualization.
  • Pentaho BI is an open source Business Intelligence suite with dashboards, reporting, data mining, workflow, and data integration capabilities. They provide great dashboards and easy to use. They offer a free community edition and an Enterprise Edition.

Conclusion

BI dashboards are today a critical part of the business decision making function. All enterprises need an effective dashboard that would analyze any and every type of data to present information in a manner that can be consumed by business. The critical capabilities of a BI platform are Infrastructure, Data Management, Analysis and Content Creation, Sharing of Findings and Overall Platform. Based on the priorities of the business need, you can choose from the several options available, both in licensed segment and in the open source market.

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