Usability Key to Dashboard Design by Jeremy Stierwalt

Jeremy Stierwalt, Jeremy Thomas Stierwalt, SAP, Dashboard, Blog

By Jeremy Stierwalt
Service Line Director, Analytics
Optimal Solutions an NTT Data Company

Gartner cites ‘improved decision making’ as the key driver of BI purchases. No surprise here. But interestingly, Gartner also reports that ease of use is surpassing functionality as the dominant buying criterion for BI. Ventana Research concurs, citing ‘usability’ as the top consideration when evaluating a BI vendor and its solutions. Trumping all, InsiderRESEARCH reports that 63 percent of customers do not believe their users are capable of getting the most out of SAP BOBJ BI tools.

In our last newsletter installment, we examined how controlled-scope, industry-specific dashboard projects provide a fast and affordable way for SAP customers to drive their BI program forward. But dashboards per se are no panacea for BI anemia. To move the BI needle and have genuine business impact, dashboards must incorporate intuitive, at-a-glance visualizations of relevant, actionable, role-specific information for a broad swath of end users. In short, dashboards must score high in usability.

So how does one go about designing a dashboard that exudes usability?

Dashboard usability is determined in large part by how well a dashboard addresses these three questions: Who will use the dashboard? What actions are to be taken as a result of the dashboard?  How will it help him or her work better, smarter and faster?

From strategic dashboards for executive management to operational dashboards for operational management to tactical dashboards for frontline workers, user adoption hinges heavily on the ease with which the dashboard can be used and the corresponding actions the user will take.

Dashboard usability demands careful and deliberate drill down on how the business or business unit functions, what business processes are involved, who is using the dashboard and why, and most importantly, what actionable indicators should be presented in the dashboard.

For this, before dashboard realization begins, a dashboard definition must be created – complete with a business case, ROI, sizing considerations, data definitions, and blueprint. Understanding that actionable visualizations take precedence, creating a thorough and accurate dashboard requires many discussions between business leaders and the IT team which include extensive workshops that incorporate whiteboarding, workflows, supporting content, and data definitions.

This preparation can be tedious and difficult, but it is indispensible. When Optimal is leading a dashboard project, we often come back to the customer after the discovery phase and prior to the realization phase with a mock-up, associated caveats, and our recommendations based on industry best practices and deep expertise with SAP BusinessObjects BI solutions.

Time and time again we’ve seen that our methodology, experience, discipline and rigor keep dashboard projects on track and the dashboard usability index high.

BI can be complex. But designing and implementing BI dashboards need not be. Leveraging templates, implementation accelerators and predefined, industry-specific dashboard views, Optimal frequently completes high-value dashboard projects at an affordable price in as few as 6 weeks.

For your business to be as flexible, adaptive, opportunistic, efficient and competitive as it needs to be to survive and thrive in today’s winner-takes-all business climate, you need more people throughout your company making smarter decisions more regularly based on accurate, timely information.

As the farthest most reaching face of BI, dashboards done right are a smart way to bring more decision makers throughout your organization into the BI fold.

According to Forrester, more than 49 percent of companies have concrete plans to implement or expand their use of BI software within the next 24 months, with reporting and data visualization projects topping BI implementation plans (59 percent of companies).

So why get moving on an SAP BOBJ dashboard project now? Chances are one of the companies cited in Forrester’s report is your competitor.

For additional perspective on SAP BusinesObjects BI solutions and tools, check out Optimal’s SAP BOBJ BI webinars:

Transforming Your Business with SAP BusinessObjects Version 4.0 >>

Enabling SAP BOBJ in Your Organization – Choosing the Right Tool for the Right Job >>

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