High on the list of challenges for any data visualization project is the need to show results that clearly communicate information and help users identify areas for improvement. Without providing the information for business leaders to act on findings and “steer the ship to safer waters,” Business intelligence (BI) projects are nothing more than interesting, and far from essential. If you’re a BI developer, like me, you’d probably much rather be considered essential than plain old “interesting.” It’s that simple. But it can also be quite complicated with all of the moving parts and team members required in each stage of a data warehouse, not to mention all of the choices available to developers.
With the mesmerizing beauty in some of today’s modern visualization tools, it’s easy to lose focus of the goal — solving business problems. Instead of “business tools,” some data visualization products are so much fun to use that they become “business toys.” Unfortunately, data exploration can quickly become a major time killer and unproductive at best. In our world of apps for everything, slick visualizations and cool-looking charts, dashboards can lose their effectiveness if they’re not developed for specific purposes.
Below are important tips to bring professionalism back to your data visualization projects and communicate reliability and trust to your users:
- Use professional formatting — No misalignment, layering or readability issues
- Make it timely and relevant — Get the data into their hands when they need it. Not after they needed
- Be precise and accurate — The facts MUST be correct or you’re hurting everyone.
- Have complete information (for the context being analyzed) — Try to minimize the “does not include” footnotes.
- Use clear and useful data – Help your users, don’t confuse them.
Now that we’ve covered the minimum requirements of a professional report, let’s discuss some of the key features needed in any successful enterprise BI implementation.
- Ability to consistently acquire and load data — SAP Data Services is an excellent choice
- Publish reports for portal access to users across the entire company — SAP BI 4.1
- Scalable, flexible, maintainable and repeatable — SAP BI 4.1, Crystal Reports, SAP Lumira and Web Intelligence
And when it comes to the reports themselves, here are a few basic guidelines.
- Layouts should be intuitive and engaging
- Navigation should be simple with guided analysis and cascading hierarchies for drilling
- Appearance should be fitting to the organization
Remember that reports are only effective with accurate content. How you choose to display the data depends largely on the audience, business need and the type of action that needs to happen after analyzing results.
To build powerful reports that can be used to change behavior, forecast projections, provide a deeper understanding of the data and tell a story with the data, use a flexible and mature BI reporting tool — such as Web Intelligence — to create reports, dashboards and scorecards.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jim is a senior data warehouse developer on the Enterprise Reporting team for Intercontinental Exchange (ICE) at their headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s the lead author of all three official SAP BusinessObjects Web Intelligence textbooks and has more than 12 years of business intelligence development experience.