Business intelligence tools, or BI tools, are apps for retrieving, analyzing, and reporting data. Many BI tools come with a LOT of features - sometimes many more than may be necessary for an organization’s primary needs. Other times, they may lack customization features that are a primary requirement for an organization. Plus, most BI tools come with a hefty price tag.
Would you rather roll your own? Read on to find out why making your own dashboard works if you’re focused on dataviz, and how the ZingChart charting library can help you do it.
Dashboards: most important feature of a BI tool
Dashboard data visualizations are one of the most important ways we humans can process data and make sense of it. According to research from the BI experts at Software Advice, about half of all business intelligence software buyers are looking for a better way to visualize their data. In addition, they found dashboards were the #1 most requested BI software feature.
However, hooking up data to a dashboard does not always require a full-fledged BI tool. In fact, using a robust data visualization library generally provide more flexibility in several ways:
- Some integrated suites do not provide the necessary flexibility in chart selection
- Certain BI tools require fairly specific server-side scripting and database technologies
- Some full BI tools do not allow you implement the features as you designed them
- Styling options are fairly limited with many BI tools
Yes, we can… make our own BI dashboards
If you’re already storing data, you are just a few steps away from having a custom dashboard. All you’ll need to do is plug the data into ZingChart and set up the charts. ZingChart offers several ways to feed in data, live or static:
- Pasting in comma separated values
- Hooking up a MySQL database
- External JSON Files
- CSV Data
- MySQL Database Data
- Passing Data via URL w/ PHP
- ZingChart API
Review your data
If dataviz options are one of the most important factors in choosing a BI tool, than ample time should be spent on chart selection when building a dashboard.
Choosing charts should be based on the data you want to visualize. For example, if you are charting data in a bar chart, but the items have long names, you may want to consider a horizontal bar chart, to make reading the labels easier for your users.
You might also consider placing charts that show an overview of the data (rather than an individual detail) at the top of the dashboard. By providing more detailed charts below, you keep your chart from being too “high-level” without throwing your users into the deep end too quickly. An example of this might be providing organization-wide data up top, and sector or department level data underneath.
If you’re looking for more tips and inspiration, we blogged about dashboard design a few months back, with some ZingChart examples. We are also really enjoying Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few.
Once you’ve designed your dashboard, you’re ready to start setting it up in ZingChart. And this is where using the ZingChart library will make you look pretty smart: the modular design and performance enhancements ensure your dashboard will load quickly, even if you’re feeding in thousands of data points.
Set up the dashboard
With your data and design in hand, setting up the dashboard is like coloring in the lines.
When using ZingChart to create a dashboard, many users start by creating a customized ZingChart theme. This allows you to apply most of your styling to all of your charts with one simple file. This has a few advantages:
- It significantly lowers the amount of code that needs to be written for each chart
- It reduces the size of your JSON file
It ensures consistent styling across all of your charts
After creating a customized theme (or styling charts individually) you can then add the necessary features to your charts to provide your users with the interactions they desire. Some popular features include:
- Drilldown with history
- Legend interactions
If certain features are used across all or most of your charts, these too can be implemented via your custom theme.
Once you have your styling done and a majority of your features added you can finish up by implementing features which require use of the ZingChart API. Beyond the basic set up, a good dataviz library will allow you tons of options for customization.
The ZingChart API provides designers and developers with the ability make modifications to their charts and their data either programmatically or in response to user events. Our API provides, with granular detail, the ability to create, modify, update, and/or remove just about any aspect or feature of a chart. These can improve usability, whether you are:
- Trying to update your data
- Allowing users to customize the look of their charts
- Triggering new features based on specific interactions
- Exporting your charts and chart data
Take a look at our Events and Methods documentation to get more detail on exactly what is possible with ZingChart.
Showing and sharing your business intelligence tools
A dashboard for internal use is going to be easier to customize, since you will know which browsers and devices most users rely on to access the dashboard. Common practices include:
- Mobile customization
- Setting render type
Also, remember when styling your dashboards, the use of color is important. There are 9 important rules to remember when it comes to best practices for color in dataviz.
Now we’ve got to dash
A big thanks to Software Advice who shared their research on BI Tools and what customers think is important. Are you using ZingChart to visualize dashboard data? Share a screengrab with us, or tell us what has worked for you. We’d love to hear about it.