Custom Software Apps & SharePoint Consulting

SharePoint 2013 Business Intelligence Pointers and Designing Dashboards

As a software consultant, I am always learning novel ways to create dashboards and data visualizations that provide value to my clients. SharePoint 2013 provides a valuable framework for surfacing business intelligence applications; it’s up to the consultant to shape those dashboards into tools that can convey data, information and knowledge that is timely and relevant. It’s paramount, then, that software consultants stay versed in the best practices of information design.

Last Friday, a group of Entrance’s consultants and managers attended a talk by Edward Tufte on the effective presentation of data and information. Edward Tufte literally wrote the book on Envisioning Information. While his presentation provided a lot of valuable insight into general trends in data visualization, a few points struck me as specifically applicable to Business Intelligence and SharePoint consultants.

  • Don’t re-invent the wheel
    Sites like ESPN.com and the National Weather Service have earned their reputations. High-traffic, high-visibility sites like these can serve as valuable models for dashboards. Lots of tabular data to show? Consider how ESPN.com condenses sports statistics into a visually appealing design that keeps fans coming back every day. Need a way to keep users engaged with dense information? Use words and pictorial descriptions like the National Weather Service’s day-to-day forecast to provide users flexibility in the way they engage your data.
  • Less can be more
    Taking another cue from the leaders in information design, consider Google’s less-is-more design philosophy. Toolbars, buttons and controls are only visible in certain contexts, when they’re absolutely necessary.  Google News uses information about your taste in content sources to bring the most relevant information to the top of the page, hiding topics and news sources that don’t apply to you. Finally, Google uses borders and boxes sparingly, setting content apart with consistent design and effective use of white space. Just because you can add drop shadows and big banners to your reports doesn’t mean you should.
  • Invest in (screen) real estate
    We live in an era of fast and high-stakes decision-making, where a glance is always quicker than a scroll or a click. Luckily, we also live in an era of rapidly-falling prices when it comes to display size and screen resolution. If users are taking advantage of multi-monitor displays or high-resolution touch-screen devices, then create dashboards, reports and applications to harness that real estate.

Combining these tenets of good information design with proven consulting practices will always result in high-value products for clients and consumers.

Find out more about how SharePoint 2013 can improve knowledge management…

For more on the components of good business intelligence check out my three part series.

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