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Developing Interactive Analytics Solutions

Developing Interactive Analytics Solutions

Dashboards, scorecards, and other business intelligence and analytics solutions can provide interactive capabilities for users if the business needs dictate

Like many business intelligence / analytics solutions, dashboards and scorecards can have varying definitions according to organization and individual.  One interesting way for developers and analysts to look at dashboards and scorecards is based on their level of interactive functionality.  Should dashboards and scorecards be interactive in all cases?  Many feel that dashboards and scorecards are always interactive, while many others feel that they should never be interactive.

Is there a right or wrong answer to that concept?  The answer would be based on the specific need of the business area and solution that is being served.  There is a variety of ways to incorporate the right level of interactive capability into any business intelligence or analytics solution.

Basis for Interactive Features

The usage basis of dashboards and scorecards is rooted in providing high level information on the performance of specific areas of business that is quickly and easily available for selected users, often in a visual format.  Generally, a dashboard or scorecard is designed to inform management of key metrics for the organization or the specific area/function being monitored.

Interactive solutions enable users to:

  • Perform drill-down and drill-through functionality – this enables a closer analysis into the numbers behind the main charts/graphs/trends.  Looking at lower levels of detail to understand the basis for metrics that are concerning or intriguing.
  • Attach business and technical metadata that provides context to assist understanding the metrics, sources of information, and aggregated content.
  • Enable teams of resources to leverage the same solution to differing degrees, typically in a complimentary manner.  As certain leaders examine results, they can contact expert analysts who have access to the same system, but have drilling access and can perform additional investigation.

There are some inherent complexities associated with providing these varying levels of functionality on any analytics solution.  One concept to consider is that the dashboard or scorecard is designed to monitor or identify progress with little or no detail.  In many cases, once a dashboard user identifies something that needs investigation, they look somewhere else for the detail. 

For example, if the needle on a car’s oil gauge is not where it should be, one of the first things a driver does is open the hood and check the dipstick.  While this may identify the issue, it is not all the driver must do to diagnose the criticality of the problem.  There could be several problems that could cause the results on the dashboard, so drilling in may be more complex than simply going from a corporate view of numbers to breaking it down regionally.  The investigation may require analysis by product/service, types of customers, cost/pricing, or other variables.

Recognizing Actual Business Requirements for Interaction

Building interactive capabilities into the business intelligence or analytics solutions depends upon the users’ requirements for metrics analysis and their desire for engaging with the results presented on the dashboard or scorecard.

A user request for having interactive functionality in applications is often a characteristic of how the question is asked or to whom it is asked.  If an analyst is defining a solution for management or leadership, it is important to work directly with them and understand how to listen to their needs, while explaining the challenges that will arise from their information requests.  A good representation would be a comparison to the common requests by users for “real-time” data/solutions.  While it is common for users to say they must have real-time data access, seldom is real-time truly the answer.  Such access is very expensive, offers the opportunity to analyze data that does not change often and may not be worth the frequent monitoring.  When the developer or business analyst explains those challenges to the user, often the “real time” requirement changes quickly.

Most executives do not need or want real interactive capabilities.  Executives rarely have time to delve into details and do not want to spend significant portions of their time trying to learn tools to do this type of analysis.  Usually, they have one or a team of analysts to examine detailed data for a dashboard or scorecard intriguing result.  The analyst will need access to what the executive sees and will need some solution that they can use to access detailed data to provide enough context for leadership to make the necessary adjustments or recommendations based on the metric’s results.

For all other levels of management, the need for interactive analytics solutions varies to the degree of their level of analytical need and comfort.  Typically, financial leaders and managers are very analytical in nature and generally want to dig into the numbers.  In the healthcare field, physicians are very analytical in nature (consider what they do on a daily basis).  Thus, any solutions for these types of users should have some level of interactive ability.

Last, review the actual metrics.  The data itself can be one of the most significant factors in defining the level of interaction required.

Simple data that is well defined, frequently used, and fully appreciated actually requires very little interaction.  Therefore, these solutions are easier to build, maintain, and support.

Metrics that are in the early stage of adoption by the business typically require more interaction.  The process of gathering and validating each metric is important, but the need to ensure business adoption of the metric is essential for its success.  How the information is shared will evolve and grow as more is learned through use of the metric and its underlying data.

Many levels of aggregation tend to require more levels of interaction.  The greater the variety of summary and additional data incorporated into a metric found on the dashboard or scorecard, the more likely that users will need to explore the detailed data through an interactive solution.

Conclusion

When trying to define the level of interaction required by analytic solutions, do not look for one person to provide the requirements.  Examine the actual needs of a variety of users, from across the spectrum of roles (leadership, management, and staff).  Start with understanding the background of the people who will be using the information, the type of information that will be tracked, the maturity of the information, and the levels of aggregation required.  Take special precautions to consider the needs and business nature of executive leadership.  Not all dashboards and scorecards require interactive solutions, but if requirements dictate the need, the capabilities exist to provide access to valuable detailed data for analytical insights.

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Bruce D. Johnson

Bruce D. Johnson is an experienced IT consultant focused on data / application architecture, and IT management, mostly relating to Data Warehousing. His work spans the industries of healthcare, finance, travel, transportation, and retailing. Bruce has successfully engaged business leadership in understanding the value of enterprise data management and establishing the backing and funding to build enterprise data architecture programs for large organizations. He has taught classes to business and IT resources and speaks at conferences on a variety of data management, data architecture, and data warehousing topics.

© Since 1997 to the present – Enterprise Warehousing Solutions, Inc. (EWSolutions). All Rights Reserved

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