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Posts: 2
Reply with quote  #1 
There has been quite an intense discussion going on, in the main section of http://www.perceptualedge.com, about the data visualisation capabilities of the new SAP BusinessObjects BI4.

I've shared my view on the capabilities of the dashboarding tool and Stephen asked for some demonstration material. Well here is the design we made. We were able to realise this almost completely in Xcelsius, except for some minor details.

This is a dashboard design we made during a project for one of our clients. The target audience for this dashboard is a line manager who is responsible for one department. The dashboard displays the actual and budget values for the total costs and drills down one level deeper, into the most influenceable costs they need to manage. It will be used on a monthly basis to steer on the costs.

In the top left you see a line chart displaying the total costs in year to date. Both budget and actual values are displayed. This chart is meant to display a trend, not detail values.

In the bar chart in the bottom left you see the deviation between your actual costs and budget costs per month with an indicator if you're 5% over budget or more than 10% under budget.

The left side of the screen with these two charts show total costs.
The right side of the screen shows a lower level of cost detail.

From left to right we have the following objects:
1. Alert month
The red alert appears if you're up to 10% over your month budget. It will display in light red. This means you'll need to keep an eye on it but it's not critical yet. If you're more than 10% over budget it will be "darker" red and means that you'll need to take immediate action.

2. Bullet chart
The bullet chart shows you the costs for the last month. The blue bar is the actual value, the grey vertical line is the budget value and the darker grey value shows the critical area which means you're more than 10% over budget. In this design we didn't use correct figures so please keep in mind that the treshold should be more to the left.

3. Spark line chart
The spark line shows a month to date trend on costs for the last 12 months. It shows you if your monthly level of costs is rising or falling. Detail values don't matter, you want to see what the trend is.

4. Actual value
Next to the sparkline the actual value for the costs for this month is displayed. 

5. Alert YTD
Comparable with nr1 but now for YTD. We added this because it's possible that you started as a line manager in June and that your costs for june were in budget. Imagine that your predecessor was over budget from January till May. If you wouldn't look back for the year to date actual versus budget value, you might miss this.

6. Horizontal bar chart
YTD actual versus budget bars to support the alert. Here you can see how far you're approximately over budget.

7. Actual YTD value
Same as nr4 but now for YTD.

There are much more details to share but that would take too long for now.
We had quite some discussions with future users about the amount of detail information they wanted to be put into the dashboard. We would have liked to show not to many detailed information like the exact values but business users just want to see this.

The idea is that this dashboard shows you if you're performing within budget and if not, which cost type causes this. From this dashboard, you could activate a drill down to an interactive WebI report or maybe even for some specific information in a pop-up in your dashboard.

Though we invested quite some time in this design, we know that there still is quite some improvement possible. We are still discussing how we should display the bar chart on the right and if this shouldn't also be a bullet chart. Another thing we're looking into is the arrangement and grouping of year to date and month to date graphs. There still is some potential in there.

We designed and realised this dashboard within under 3 weeks in SAP BO Dashboards / Xcelsius. I'll try to attach the Xcelsius SWF file as well but I'll need to check if it's available.

Xcelsius managed quite well to realise this dashboard. Some stuff like getting the axis scaling correct or making it possible to let it display values in thousands or millions without messing up the layout is tricky. It could sure use some extra flexibility in this area but we were pretty satisfied.

As soon as we started with WebI for the interactive drill down we remembered why we loved Xcelsius so much because Webi is much and much less powerful in data visualisation in comparison to Xcelsius.

Please let me know what you think of this design.
I'd like to give some special credits to Frodo Jansen, a UX designer, who is responsible for the largest part of this design. I think he really did a great job.

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Posts: 100
Reply with quote  #2 
Hi Pieter,

Thank you for posting this example. Overall, this is a clean dashboard made of well-designed graphs. It’s nice to see that you were able to do this using BusinessObjects. I have a few suggestions for future improvements.

  • First, while the graphs on the dashboard are well-designed, the dashboard as a whole seems fairly data-sparse. I’d estimate that a typical dashboard that we design contains between two and four times this much information. Perhaps this is the only information that the line manager needs to monitor, but I’d bet there is other information that the line manager would have also found useful, even if it was just to provide greater context for the information you’re already presenting. One the reasons that Stephen suggests using bullet graphs and sparklines on dashboards is because they can be made quite small without losing effectiveness. In your design, the sparklines and especially the bullet graphs are significantly larger than they need to be.
  • For the bar graphs on the right side, rather than showing Actual and Budget as separate bars, I think it would have been better to show the Actual value as a bar and the budget as a small vertical marker, like you used in the bullet graphs. This would put most of the attention on the Actual values (where it should be) and reinforce the fact that the purpose of the Budget number is to compare it to the Actual. This change would have also saved space, which would have helped you fit more information on the dashboard.
  • I recommend placing a very light gray fill color in the background of sparklines or using a light border, so that people can see their plot areas. When several sparklines are placed close together, sometimes the slope of neighboring sparklines can affect people’s perception of a particular line. Using a very light gray fill or border prevents this problem.
  • Rather than using dotted lines to show the thresholds in the deviation graph on the bottom-left, I recommend light solid gray lines. Dotted lines are unnecessarily distracting.
I’m glad that you were able to create this design in BusinessObjects, despite its defaults. It’s good that experts are able to use the tool to create effective dashboards. However, most of the people that use BusinessObjects aren’t experts in visual design and I’ll bet that most of them aren’t as good at using the tool as you and Frodo. I’m happy to see that this is possible, but it’s still no excuse for BusinessObjects giving users easy access to visualizations that have been proven ineffective (like 3-D pie charts), or for starting the user off with graphs that have defaults that aren’t as well-designed as possible.


Posts: 69
Reply with quote  #3 

If, instead of showing the expenditure with the budget as a comparison, the primary goal was to show the difference between the expenditure and the budget, then I would recommend a floating bar. One end of the bar would be the expenditure, the other would be the budget, the visual impact of the bar would be the difference, and the colour of the bar would say whether the difference was positive or negative.

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