Today's executive dashboards that display business intelligence and key performance indicators (KPIs) to decision makers often embed maps. This interview with Dundas Data Visualization's content marketing specialist,Slava Pastukhov, explores the importance of customizing business and geographic information visualization for the needs of specific corporate departments.
Dundas Data Visualization focuses on data visualization and dashboard solutions. The dashboard is a key app for injecting geographic visualization and analysis into the workflow of managers at many levels in many industries. Directions Magazine interviewed Slava Pastukhov, content marketing specialist at Dundas, to learn more about dashboards and the company.
Directions Magazine(DM): What exactly is a dashboard and when did it come into widespread use in business?
Slava Pastukhov (SP):A dashboard is a way for you to put all of your company’s most important key performance indicators (KPIs) on a single screen. Similar to your vehicle’s dashboard, a performance dashboard allows you to understand how your business is running at a glance and alerts you to any concerns that are relevant. It’s become an important tool for companies that don’t want to rely on reports that are outdated by the time they’re delivered. Dashboards provide real-time updates on all of your important metrics, and allow organizations to think proactively about their key challenges. Both of the dashboards below give you a comprehensive look into a specific department’s output.
The idea of having a performance dashboard dates back to the 1980s when executive information systems (EIS) were used to inform executives about their company’s well-being. Unfortunately, these systems failed to get adopted because they were too costly to customize and maintain and only serviced a small group of people. In the ‘90s, the amount of data collected in business grew exponentially. Later that decade, we learned that by studying all that data and specifically the KPIs, businesses would be able to work more efficiently. Today, business dashboards are an important component of any company that needs to visually understand vast amounts of data in order to work smarter.
Figure 1: Call Center Caption: A performance dashboard for call centers (Click for larger image)
Figure 2: Harbor Caption: A performance dashboard for a manufacturing plant (Click for larger image)
DM: Dundas currently offers one product, Dundas Dashboard, a Web-based solution that allows end users to build their own dashboard to visualize the data that is applicable to their job within an organization. This is perhaps a sibling of the current DIY enterprise map making/map analysis solutions popping up in the GIS industry. Is it realistic to think that most knowledge workers, no matter their position within an organization, will benefit from a custom dashboard?
SP: Maps are an easy and accessible way of plotting your information. We’ve taken it beyond map making where we actually allow you to map information on a variety of shapes and objects. Now, in addition to understanding where your trucks are located by looking at a map, you can also monitor truck health by mapping its shape and then plotting the relevant data. The great thing about dashboards is that they are customizable to every department in your company, so there’s a huge upside to having all of your employees better understand the metrics upon which they are being judged. Every success that your employees accomplish is easily tracked visually, motivating them to continue on the best path in order to continue to see these positive gains. For knowledge workers, allowing them to visually understand the difference their output is making on a company-wide scale is a great way to keep everyone on the same page and motivated.
Figure 3: Naddus (Map Floor) Caption: An example of path-binding (plotting data to a custom path) on a dashboard (Click for larger image)
Figure 4: Body Map Caption: An example of how object-binding (plotting data to a custom object) can help easily tell a story with data (Click for larger image)
DM: Dundas offers professional services including training and consulting. What percentage of user organizations take advantage of those services? What typically would a consulting team do to implement a successful new implementation?
SP: Our Professional Services (PS) team’s main draw is the fact that they take the time to really understand a prospect’s business: how it works, what their key performance indicators are, what visualization objects to use, how best to design it, etc. Since we understand business dashboards so thoroughly, our PS team is in high-demand and we’re currently servicing projects at full capacity. Once requested by a client, our team would do everything from giving them a business requirements analysis to creating any custom data connectors they may need developed. Since the services offered differ so greatly based on the project, it’s hard to provide a blanket statement regarding what you can expect. While we can’t show you examples of any of our PS work, below are two samples that show our flexibility. The first shows a fully functioning game of Tetris, built in Dundas. The second is a what-if visualization regarding transportation and C02 emissions.
Figure 5: Tetris Caption: Dundas dashboard is a very customizable platform. (Click for larger image)
Figure 6: CO2 What-If Caption: Although gauges aren’t the best practice in the data visualization world, we find ourselves receiving a lot of requests for them. (Click for larger image)
DM: The gallery of dashboards includes just three with maps (an exec one, a sales one and an election one). Are maps a “new idea” on corporate dashboards? Why?
SP: Maps are certainly not a new idea in the business dashboard world, as they are one of the most familiar ways a user could look at data. The reason that you don’t see many samples with maps incorporated in them on our sample gallery is because, according to data visualization best practices, they are not the most efficient way to show information. Maps take up a large amount of on-screen real estate, space that could be better used to display relevant data in a more efficient manner. One of the ways we’re working on improving our data viz offerings is by allowing users to create their own custom map of any custom object or shape and allowing them to display the relevant data on it. This is also known as “path” or “object-binding,” which involves plotting data on a custom object (a human body) or path (an office blueprint).
Figure 7: Elections Caption: An example of a map increasing the value of the data presented (Click for larger image)
DM: Your website copy reads, "Connect to any data source and visualize your business analytics.” How do you ensure your solution connects to “any” data source? How deep is your support for geodata? Do you, for example, connect to KML? GeoJSON? Esri geodatabase?
SP: Dundas does boast the fact that it connects to any data source because it’s one of the things of which we’re most proud. Out of the box, you will be able to connect to an XAML Path Markup and to Esri Shapefiles, as well as being able to embed Bing maps, but our Professional Services team is able to build you a custom connector so that you can visualize any geodata that you choose.
DM: Can you provide details of a dashboard implementation that involved high level geographic visualization (beyond dots on a map or the choropleth ones in the gallery)?
SP: Because of our customization options, you’re able to go as “high-level” as you want with your data. Just this week we hosted a webinar where one of our employees showed off a fully scalable Bing map with the likelihood of earthquakes plotted onto it, as well as a map of the world tracking the flight-path of shipping aircraft. I’ve included a screenshot of both of these examples.
Figure 8: Planes Caption: Maps have a place in dashboards if used properly. (Click for larger image)
Figure 9: Bing Maps - Dundas connects to Bing Maps, letting you plot data and get as detailed as you want. (Click for larger image)