Gauges and Globes – Highly effective, ineffective dashboards

In his article “The Slow Death of a Gauge,” Ryan Goodman makes a number of great points about the use of gauges in dashboards and he is absolutely correct, for many reasons, gauges are not a great way to display information in a dashboard and if you are using them you should look at some of Ryan’s recommendations for alternatives.

However, there is one thing which I think he underplays and that is, in his words, “the emotional effect that Xcelsius has on customers is amazing”. Having seen and given many demos of Xcelsius in my time, I completely agree, it is a technology which not only leaves people wide-eyed and open mouthed, but more often than not, it also leaves them wanting attractive, interactive dashboards filled with their information (and for what it is worth I deam convinced there is a strong, positive correlation between the seniority of an end-user and the power of this effect!). In short, they leave the demonstration significantly more engaged in BI than when they entered. Having seen this happen over and over again, I am convinced that this “Xcelsius engagement effect” is not only a critical value in the BI life-cycle, but also leads to the bizarre concept of the effective/ineffective dashboard.

The only way something can be effective and ineffective at the same time is to be effective for one purpose whilst being ineffective for a different purpose, and this is exactly what is at work here. Business Intelligence has two great challenges:

  1. Providing high-quality, timely, usable information and analysis to end-users
  2. Engaging end-users so they actually use this information and analysis once it is delivered

And sadly, just because you deliver 1) does not guarantee that 2) will automatically follow. In fact, sometimes the more effective something is at 2), the less effective it is at 1) and vice versa. A great example of this is the XGlobe component (free to download), which is definitely at the emotional/engagement end of the spectrum. I have yet to see anyone react poorly to it, people instinctively love it. I even heard a story about a senior executive who saw it at a morning seminar and all he could talk about back at the office in the afternoon was “the dashboard with the spinning globe in it”. However, I have yet to see it put to good use in a day-to-day, operational dashboard (any references to examples are very welcome). Try spinning the XGlobe below and see what you think.

Adding such blatant “eye-candy” to demo dashboards may seem like a classic “bait and switch” tactic, but trust me, it is highly effective at drawing end-users into the BI world and engaging them. The first “demo” dashboards you show them may not be useful, but they will love them. The ones you deliver in your proof of concept can be more real-world and as likely as not, after a few weeks of production use the users will be back begging you to remove the globes and gauges to free up screen space for more data, and at that point, they are engaged, the dashboards are theirs and adoption is much more likely to follow.

Having said all that, you have to be careful with engaging end-users emotionally like this. It dramatically increases the stakes, and expectations for a quick, comprehensive delivery are all the higher. You should also be aware, that as they learn more, users will inevitably change their minds about what they want. This will require a solid infrastructure that enables delivery of robust, drillable, interactive data, quickly and easily through Xcelsius, in an easy to maintain way, but that is a topic for another day.

If this topic is of interest to you, I invite you to attend my presentation, “Visualization for Experts” at the SBOUC in Orlando, FL,  on Wednesday, October 06, 2010, 2:45PM – 3:45PM.

Donald MacCormick is a board member and strategic advisor to Antivia, an SAP® software solution partner, and creator of XWIS the Xcelsius-to-SAP BusinessObjects connectivity solution. In past years, he was a long term member of BusinessObjects and Crystal and part of the team that brought Xcelsius into the BusinessObjects portfolio.

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8 Responses to “Gauges and Globes – Highly effective, ineffective dashboards”

  1. Jim Payton says:

    Excellent post, Donald! It reiterates the point that dashboard developers need to find the right balance between the flashy (no pun intended) presentation of information versus a more utilitarian and sometimes spartan view. This was a topic of a blog post I did back in June ( Ultimiately, I think it is the end user who will determine what presentation is most effective for them. Your comment about the end user changing their mind is spot on! :)


    Jim Payton

  2. So what you are saying is that you spend R&D resources to develop meaningless features that sales people like and customers eventually dislike but have to pay for. Why not show your customers more respect and develop usefull functionality. It does not have to be a trade off. At least this is our philosophy behind http://www.kpidas

  3. Jim,

    Definitely the end-user’s choice, I can’t begin to coins the number of dashboards I have seen which I really don’t like (to say the least) but the users swear by them


  4. Karel,

    I look at it differently, these are not useless features they are just for different purposes. Rather like the shrinking menus option in MS-Office, (loved by the new user hated by the experienced user) they are about engaging new users with the technology. They are also useful in other contexts, XGlobe would be fantastic in a promotional context or for a corporate “dashboard” in a building lobby.

    Hope that makes sense


  5. [...] Then I loaded up a dashboard from Donald MacCormick, that uses his flashy Globe component: [...]

  6. [...] Then I loaded up a dashboard from Donald MacCormick, that uses his flashy Globe component: [...]

  7. [...] I have argued before (e.g. on the EverythingXcelsius blog) I think it is the combination of the two ends of the spectrum which have underpinned the success [...]

  8. [...] I have argued before (e.g. on the EverythingXcelsius blog) I think it is the combination of the two ends of the spectrum which have underpinned the success [...]

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