BI applications – the evolution of dashboards and scorecards

There’s a lot of “chatter” about mobile BI, and BI in general these days. As the information age matures and explodes, BI is all the rage. Everybody seems to get the premise of delivering information, and the delivery medium that is becoming the standard is the dashboard. The BI vendors have done such a good job increasing the reliability, functionality, and simplicity of use of their BI dashboarding tools, while stretching their capabilities further and further, that the business has started taking notice.

The level of sophistication users now expect to see in their BI solutions is far beyond that of simple reports. They expect interactivity, navigation, drill downs, up and sideways, and a cohesive user experience, the same they would see on a commercial website, or an application. And yet, many continue to describe the BI products as “reports” or “dashboards”. Well, that perceptions can be very misleading as the level of design and effort required to produce this new breed of data driven applications is misunderstood.

Traditional BI projects require a combination of skills that must be carefully combined to achieve success. Strong business sense and understanding of functional requirements, strategic goals and organizational structure must be combined with strong data skills around dimensional modeling, etl techniques and a wide variety of technologies that are used in BI projects. Now add to this long list traditional application design skills.

Today’s “dashboards” are made out of at least 5-6 screens, and on many occasions exceed 20, with complex and highly refined navigation paths, use cases, functionality to hide and show various parts of the application, with different levels of data granularity and presentation and different times based on user interactivity, maintaining drilling contexts across all this, complex security requirements and of course must be graphically stunning. Similar traditional applications written in programming languages such as C, Java or .net can take many months and a team of developers to complete, but “dashboards” roll out on schedules measured in weeks.

Furthermore, as excited business users start using these BI applications, they quickly realize the potential of commercializing them and unleashing them on their own external clients.

This is most certainly the evolution of BI. These new applications are delivered over traditional PCs, mobile devices, on intranets as well as the internet and are being designed to cater to a wide variety of users, from novice technically challenged users, to the savviest business analysts.

The BI applications trend is on a trajectory headed for wide adoption. As more companies learn about the new capabilities of the leading BI tools from SAP, Oracle, IBM, Microsoft and the likes, and data visualization technology continues to improve, I expect to see these applications become the norm in any BI project, taking the place of the more simplistic dashboard or scorecard.

And as this happens, we will surely see more traditional software design methodologies make their way into the BI world.

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