Implementing Environmental Dashboards in your workplace

 

We’ve all seen them – those big, flat-panel televisions – colorfully beaming with real-time data points. Pure eye-candy! I am a big proponent of environmental dashboards in the office space. Dashboards serve a vital purpose as a communication hub – providing quick access to metrics the whole organization should be aware of. However, they should not over-extend their dialogue. We’re looking for no more than a 30 second “elevator pitch” on where the business stands. The reader should walk away knowing the successes, opportunities and where we stand toward our goals. Environmental dashboards should be the first thing you see when you walk in the doors for work each day and the last things you see on the way out.

Overview

Dashboards are in a unique space on the Data Visualization and Business Intelligence family. Unlike the other two which serve data discovery through interaction - dashboards are largely read-only. Furthermore, environmental dashboards need to be as clean as possible and without the traditional User Interface (UI) as that wastes space better served for eye-candy maps and widgets.

The process of setting up environmental dash-boarding in your organization should take you a couple of days to implement, provided you have all the resources at your disposal. I’ve broken the process down into these four easy steps.

  1. Dashboarding Caveats
  2. Choosing a service provider platform
  3. Picking hardware and physical setup
  4. Designing your dashboard

 

Step 1. Dashboarding Caveats

Dashboards do not have nearly the flexibility of implementation that a more powerful solution like Tableau, Chartio, SiSense, SAP or Qlikview (to name a few) does. They are intended to allow a user (of minimal technical background) to quickly connect to web based services and drop widgets on a dashboard.

  • The widgets themselves are generally ‘take it or leave it’, offering no or little flexibility
  • Make sure your services are supported (e.g. SalesForce, Google Analytics..) and that you can access the data you’re interested in
    • Typically, a set number of widgets are available for each service and customization is not generally afforded
  • Some dashboard services do not allow native database connectivity – so, if your data is in a warehouse, you need to look into this first.
    • This includes stuff like Microsoft Azure, AWS Redshift, and Google BigQuery
  • Widgets function off a single data source – so if you need a multi-source data point (e.g. merging mailchimp and GA) – you would have to create this functionality elsewhere (DW) and link to that (note my comment directly above)
  • Be mindful that this info is on public display to anyone in your office

Step 2. Choosing your dashboard provider

There is no shortage of dashboard providers out there and they all offer subtle variations on the same visual experience using a web-based platform. My personal favorites are LeftronicGeckoboard and Klipfolio. Now, there are plenty of comparison resources out there, so I will not re-invent the wheel here.

The most crucial thing for you to do is to catalog all the services you need to connect to for rendering your dashboard (Analytics platform, email, sales, facebook, twitter, et al.). If you don’t see your service listed, check with the dashboard provider as these dashboard services are very competitive and are constantly evolving. Also, make sure your metric (and dimensions) are supported – such as custom variables.

There seems to be a detente in pricing between them but pay close attention to the language between dashboards and users. If you have multiple screens in the office(s) (and the last one I did had 30!!!), then you may end up with a large delta between providers. Of course, you always can use a HDMI splitter/repeater to minimize costs (especially if you need to buy Chromeboxes for each device)

Lastly, all three that I recommended offer a 30 day free trial. So, kick the tires and see what works best for you.

Step 3. Picking hardware and physical setup

The objective here is to load the web-based dashboard in a full-screen and render it on the TV. The screen should also be big enough and centrally located so that people can read it from a distance. For that reason, I would not recommend anything less than 50″. Also, the screen should be wall mounted on an articulating (aka full-motion) mount so you can align it for appearance and use. Lastly, it goes without saying – hide the cables. In the immortal words of Sweet Brown: “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

What you need:

  • If you don’t have a suitable >50″ flat panel TV
    • a 50-55″ or greater LED 1080p TV with smart functionality and WiFi ($550> USD)
      • Make sure you give your dashboard a test-run at the store before you buy!!
    • an articulating wall mount <$100 USD
    • Public WiFi router (if you don’t already have one)
      • Some Private corporate WiFi routers use integrated security which smart TV’s have issues with.
  • If you do have a 720p or greater >50″ flat panel TV
    • an articulating wall mount <$100 USD
      • Make sure it works with your screen as earlier TV’s had proprietary mount points
    • a Google ChromeBox (<$200 USD) with Keyboard and Mouse.
      • Get the least expensive one you can find. Remember, you’re only loading a webpage.
      • Some Chromeboxes had RJ45 connectors in case you need to connect to a local network

Since the dashboard components (“widgets”) are large and are going to be viewed from a distance: you can nix the 4k display as the premium will be lost. I’ve successfully re-used 720p displays in the past with great results.

Step 4. Designing your dashboard

When designing a dashboard its important to

  1. Get and constantly re-assess stakeholder input.
  2. Show data-points that are intuitive, meaningful and communicate a story (are we on budget or off?, what is moving the needle?)
    1. Data points should be tied to the respective time frame that stakeholder and their teams track to. e.g. Sales should be in monthly to allow sales to track to their goals. SEO, SEM, Social Attribution, and visitors should be in real-time to assist your marketing and social teams. Lastly, top pages/articles should be in real time as that helps explain what is driving traffic/sales
    2. Cluster your widgets by business group to aid in readability
    3. Keep the total number of widgets below 12 or 13. Otherwise the dashboard becomes antiseptic and daunting
    4. If you have a data point that is making a certain stakeholder look bad, offer to temporarily remove it. Otherwise you will erode goodwill.
  3. Although you’re sure this dashboard is idiot proof – GATHER THE TEAMS and present it. My experience is that people don’t want to ask for fear of looking like an idiot.
  4. Use the dashboard to celebrate “wins” (such as a high number of sales or visitors) – this will enforce the positive association

Thanks for reading and have fun with your dashboard. As always: feel free to post comments or suggestions if you have them.

David

Article by David

Your host and an experienced analyst dedicated to evangelizing the quantifiable, data-driven measurement of business with an emphasis on the customer relationship.

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