Creating advanced dashboards and widgets

A dashboard is the ideal measure to illustrate key metrics to stakeholder. In this article I would like to compare different approaches towards the development of dashboards including a realtime dashboard example.

A dashboard is ideal to quickly illustrate key information. It is commonly used in the areas of business and customer intelligence. Some use cases are for instance within fleet or asset management tools, production and manufacturing software such as MES or web analytics.

Within this article I will illustrate several approaches towards creating dashboards will focusing more on the architecture rather than design or concrete content. At the end I will give an example for a web-based, interactive dashboard which is updating information in real-time for smart decision making.

Desktop Software vs. Mobile App vs Web App

An important question to answer is how the dashboard should be realised from a architecture point of view.

The first option is having it as a normal desktop software that runs on a PC or Laptop. However, in this case the dashboard software needs to be distributed to the audience, it needs to be installed by every person that is willing to use the dashboard. This somehow limits easy access to the dashboard.

In some cases it could make sense to have a mobile app to feature the dashboard, especially when you target mobile users only. Again you might need to support different platforms like Android or iOS.

The most common approach is to realize dashboards as web application. The dashboard is nothing else than a website showing charts, maps and widgets. The big advantage of a web application is that you can access it from anywhere, no reason to install additional software as a browser could be used to feature the dashboard. One limit however is browser compatibility which means that not all browsers, especially older versions, will not be able to scope with the dashboard. 

Out of the box dashboard solution vs individual approach

There are software companies like Tableau or Qlikview which offer visualization software to create dashboards and widgets. This kind of software is very mature, well tested and includes many features like connectors to various data warehouse systems. Using this kind of software will cost you some money but you might be able to save implementation time as you can build dashboards in a drag and drop style without any coding.

However, if you have very specific requirements that could not be fulfilled with standard software you might need to go for an individual implementation of the dashboard. Typically this is a one time effort which corresponds to cost or time that you invest once and then you do not have any subscription to pay.

Example of an individual real-time dashboard