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Sometimes Dancing Angels Need to be Functional

Last night, I was taking the dog out in my front yard just before going to bed, and I noticed these amazing circular lights moving quickly through the clouds. There were four of them.  They moved in a circle a few times, merged together in the middle, shot out to four corners of a square and back in a few times and then repeated the pattern.  It was a clear night with a few scattered cloud masses, and these lights were darting around in one of the cloud masses that made the effect all the more stunning.

It was so beautiful that I felt that I had to share this with someone. The dog was oblivious so I rushed inside to call out the family who were getting ready for bed.  My 14 year-old son came out.  His first thought was that it was a UFO.  It took him a full minute to discount this theory.  His younger sister was simply scared at what she was seeing.  My wife loved it but then, like the good parent she is, explained they were probably spotlights from a store or mall trying to attract early shoppers for the infamous “Black Friday” which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year in the U.S.

I realized she was probably right since the pattern was continually repeated every minute and as my son so aptly explained, “they’re okay to look at for 30 seconds but they just don’t do anything!”

As Business Intelligence dashboards become increasingly popular, I see a lot of companies wrestling with the design and trying to strike a balance between ergonomics and functionality.  In order for a dashboard to be compelling, it needs to both look good and deliver key functionality. However, many I.T. people have been so used to static displays of data that when they see the animated flash components with smooth moving dials and sliders along with gently bouncing bar charts, they are so blown away that they just have to show this to their executives.  In their excitement, they will often put looks over functionality. They want sharp, crisp, three-dimensional objects in metallic colors on black backgrounds so it looks like something out of a science fiction movie.  Technical developers and managers suddenly become artists and want specific color palettes and combinations. They end up producing some nice looking dashboards, but they are often not very functional. It would be a mistake to put this type of dashboard in front of most executives because once the initial dazzling effect is over in the first 30 seconds, they are likely to have the same response as my son – namely that it doesn’t do anything!

dancingangelsWhen I came back inside after the light show that night and said goodnight to my daughter, she asked me what I thought the lights were. 

I answered, “they were dancing angels.”

About Paul

Paul Grill started his career in Information Technology in the U.K. in 1978, as an Executive Data Processing Trainee for Honeywell. More than thirty years later, he still has a voracious appetite for learning as Information Technology continues to advance at an ever accelerating pace. He was first introduced to the world of Business Intelligence in 1991, in France, when he saw a demonstration of an early version of BusinessObjects on Windows 2.1. He returned to the U.S. to rave about this phenomenal product, but it was many years before BusinessObjects made it into the mainstream. Paul founded InfoSol in 1997, and made Business Intelligence one of the key solutions offered by the company. Today, InfoSol is a leading SAP BusinessObjects solutions partner, known for its expert consulting, education and innovative add-on solutions. Paul is well known within the SAP BusinessObjects community for his extensive knowledge of Business Intelligence, and he has lectured and written many articles on the subject. Paul enjoys writing, running and coaching kids soccer, and is passionate about Ancient Egyptology.

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