On a recent vacation in Mexico, I attended a class to learn how to dance salsa. Now, I have two left feet when it comes to learning any structured dances. I can do the count in my head and I can do the steps with my feet, but I can never get them synchronized which usually results in either stepping on my partner’s feet or freezing in fear of stepping on my partner’s feet!
The instructor taught the basic salsa steps. I started just fine, but as he added more steps and increased the speed of the music I became more confused and started to act like a bull in a china shop. When he showed one last step, the “Suzie Q” , I was doomed.
It would not have been so bad had the instructor not made us change partners every two minutes, which meant I had to embarrass myself with at least a dozen women who all politely pretended not to notice my out of control feet.
Now I have no trouble dancing freeform and I actually won prizes when I was younger for dancing to 70’s pop music. You can certainly improvise with salsa too once you have those basic steps down but unless you learn and follow those steps, it’s not salsa.
The truth is that sometimes you just want to move to the music and not worry about following the rules of structured dances.
The same can be said when creating Business Intelligence dashboards. While we have some great dashboard tools we can use, like SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards, Tableau, PowerBI and even Web Intelligence now, they are all structured and, along with the basics, you need to learn quite a few “Suzie Q” moves to build the fancy visualizations you want.
Four of the biggest challenges when building BI dashboards are:
- Working well on both desktop and mobile devices
- Looking good while being functional and easy to use
These also happened to be the four major challenges facing a frustrated client I recently encountered. They had tried building a comprehensive BI dashboard first using Microstrategy, then Tableau and then PowerBI but all had design, mobile, scalability and performance challenges. So, I suggested a freeform approach where they can build a custom dashboard to meet their exact needs rather than try to fit their needs within the limitations of a BI dashboard development tool.
Because they are now building a custom dashboard, there were no limitations on the design. They could make the dashboard look and behave exactly as they wanted with some pretty cool animations and simplified work flows.
They didn’t just stop with custom design. They were also able to include collaboration features built into the dashboard requiring write-back capability which most structured BI dashboard tools do not support.
And they were able to accommodate their users. Since there would be many different types of users wanting to do and see different things in the dashboard, they built a selection option, so each user could select their own defaults for display.
They addressed most of the mobile issues with responsive design and they solved performance issues using in-memory data caching.
Of course, there are pros and cons to building custom BI dashboards as opposed to using a commodity BI dashboard tool. Custom dashboards take longer to develop, require skilled programming and cost more to develop and maintain. However, there are usually little, or no software license fees associated with their deployment.
There is definitely a need and desire for structured BI dashboard tools just like there is for structured dances like the salsa but we should also be open to a freeform approach when we just know how we want to move to the music.