Industrial DashboardChoosing a Dashboard Solution

Let’s face it, just about every information product has a dashboard.  And there are independent dashboards designed to aggregate results from disparate data sources.

Business oriented products – Klipfolio, Dasheroo, Datapine, Zoho, BusinessAnalyze, Scoro, Cyfe, Thefinalstep, Geckoboard, Hiveage, A7iob, Domo, Marginminder, Fusioncharts, Tableau, Pentaho, Qlikview, Jaspersoft, PowerBI, Qliksense, Crystal Reports, SSRS…  Then there are dashboard additions from product companies such as Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, and industrial vertical market/application vendors delivering their solutions for their own data sources.  The list goes on and on.  With so many options, what’s the best choice?

Items to consider when choosing a dashboard software solution

First, fully understand your dashboard requirements.

  • Visualization of Data vs Analytics of Data
  • Connectivity to many data sources vs an aggregated data source
  • Connectivity to simple data structures vs complex structures/tables
  • Real-time updates vs published updates
  • Interactive displays vs static
  • Configuration by domain experts vs casual users
  • Scalability – designed for hundreds of users vs handful or tens of users
  • On premise vs cloud hosted
  • Perpetual license vs subscription service
  • Vertical market analytics aware vs generic analytics
  • General browser-based user interface vs mobile app deployment model
  • Predefined views vs user defined dates, times, batches, tags
  • Automatic report (document) generation vs online only visualization
  • Information indexing and distribution vs dashboard only

Dream Report recommendations for selecting an industrial dashboard solution

  • Analytics of data will be the next requirement of any dashboard visualization installation. While visualization of data may initially be enough, being able to slice and dice your data over times and events will quickly become a requirement as your installation matures
  • Connectivity to many data sources means you are not replicating data into one central source. Central sources tend to create multiple versions of the truth and need to be carefully managed.  Ideally, if aggregation is done, it should be done for purpose – high resolution data at the source and aggregated result data in central repositories, and then selecting a dashboard that can pull from all sources depending on the task at hand.
  • Connectivity to complex structures/tables lets you recall data from multiple tables, as you need it. Search for a Batch ID and recall associated data.  Query a Tag from one Tag table and retrieve results out of a data table.  Or access alarm and event data out of more complicated table structures.
  • Real-time updates vs published updates – You’ll need both. Complicated analytics take time, so you’ll want to have a solution that can provide scheduled analytics, so that results are available to you when you want them, without wait.  But you’ll also want ad-hoc analytics and drill down reports that let you quickly and easily get to the root of an issue.  You’ll also want real-time updates so that you can have an instant view of what’s happening right now.
  • Interactive displays vs static – Many lower end solutions are generating published dashboards. These are great for a quick glance at results, but you’ll benefit greatly from drill-down analytics.  This can be as simple as Raw Data Hyperlinks, to quickly and easily access the data behind an analytic for viewing or export to other tools (Excel for example).  Or, clicking on variables to launch another display with passed context of dates, times or batch IDs.
  • Configuration by domain experts vs casual users – Most tools require a domain expert. This is often someone from IT, or your local system integrator.  The best tools will enable your users to adopt their solutions, easily making the tweaks and enhancements they desire, without needing to justify changes.  Too many solutions fall into the Capital Expense (CapEx) category and require a major justification effort, followed by extensive report/dashboard definition and iterations with IT or SI partners to get the final (and desired) result.  Look for solutions that can be implemented or adopted by the end users, and that are inexpensive enough to be purchased out of an Operational Expense (OpEx) budget, possibly as a Subscription Service rather than a Perpetual License purchase.
  • Scalability – designed for hundreds of users vs handful or tens of users – Capital Project Definition drives organizations to think big and swing hard. Home Runs are hard to come by.  A better solution is to think big and start small, prove your assumptions, test the waters and scale over time.  Much less risk is involved and the rewards deliver an immediate return on your investment.
  • On premise vs cloud hosted – Ideally, you would like to have it your way. If you are cloud oriented, deploy to the cloud.  If you are on premise oriented, hosting your own servers or leveraging virtual technology, you’ll have that option too.  Some solutions are only hosted.  Some can address both options.
  • Perpetual license vs subscription service – Solutions come in many shapes and forms (and costs). The pricier ones are often better justified as an OpEx, rather than a CapEx.  If you focus on Think Big and Start Small, you’ll find there are solutions available that are extremely cost effective, and a perpetual license (one-time cost for purchase) can even come out of an OpEx budget.
  • Vertical market analytics aware vs generic analytics – Business solutions are good with currencies and counts. Not so good with industrial data, quality information, vertical market statistics, meter rollovers or even mathematical integrations.  A solution designed for the world of industrial automation does take all these into account.  Understand your requirements, before selecting your analytics solution.  While industrial solutions can also address business analytics, business solutions can not always address industrial analytics.
  • General browser-based user interface vs mobile app deployment model – It used to be the case that browser technology was inferior to functionality found in an App. That gap in functionality is becoming less and less over time.  Consider solutions that leverage HTML5 and can be deployed through any browser and on any device.
  • Predefined views vs user defined dates, times, batches, tags – Dashboards and Analytics are often preconfigured for users. Their data sources are very specialized and business tools are inadequate for exposing those sources for user interaction.  A solution that is purpose built for industrial applications, with purpose-built data integration and data source browsing, will deliver a superior experience when it comes to ad-hoc analytics and interactive analytics.
  • Automatic report (document) generation vs online only visualization – The world is being dominated by dashboards and there are literally dozens to choose from when looking at business solutions. In the industrial world, the choices are narrowed, but there is still one thing missing when using dashboards, the “One version of the truth.”  Dashboards are open to interpretation based on when they are viewed.  Different users will get different impressions, when viewing at different times.  One solution to this problem is to distribute the “One version of the truth” in report form, in addition to delivering interactive dashboards for follow-up.  Another benefit – Reports enable a reactive environment.  I get a report (Email, FTP, etc.) and it triggers me to review it.  Dashboards require a proactive user and are often ignored when times are challenging.
  • Information indexing and distribution vs dashboard only – Dashboards are great, but the ability to additionally and automatically generate reports is even better, especially if report documents can be organized, indexed, distributed and automatically managed for the long term. It’s best not to limit yourself to a dashboard only solution.

These are just some of the criteria to consider when selecting a KPI Dashboard, Performance Dashboard or Operational Dashboard solution.  The good news?  Dream Report ideally addresses the items above and should be your starting point for any evaluation.  Try a free download today.