Creating a corporate dashboard (using OData and Microsoft PowerBI)

Building a corporate dashboard so that you have key management information at a glance

(This article was first posted on 17 June 2017 on a different blog site, but migrated here 05 Feb 2018).

I have recently been building some corporate dashboards (as recommended by Daniel Priestley in his best selling book “24 Assets: Create a digital, scalable, valuable and fun business that will thrive in a fast changing world”). From chapter 15 of the book:

A key asset is a dashboard that allows the team to see how the business is performing. Carefully select some of the metrics that drive performance and make sure they show up prominently on your dashboard. You might select metrics like cash at bank, payments collected, expected invoices, revenue per employee or monthly users; the general rule is that whatever you measure will improve.

Accessing your valuable and key data

Dashboards need data, and this data will almost certainly need to come from a variety of sources in your organisation. There are lots of different ways of exposing your data sources so that the key information can be pulled into your dashboard. I reviewed several different options (including direct connections to databases, WebApi or MVC from websites and OData). My conclusion was that OData seemed the best current approach. Your data is valuable, so whatever method you use needs to be secure (i.e. with access protected via encryption and passwords) and you can do this with OData (and the other methods I have mentioned too). (Contact us if you need help with this. )

Visualising your key data in a flexible and user friendly way

In order to be able to see key management information quickly, you need user friendly output, but ideally this should also be flexible and interactive, so that you can make changes to the information you want to see. The output you need will probably consist of a mixture of charts, tables and cards. The latter will contain, normally in quite large font, the key headline numbers that you focus on to run your business.

Again, I looked at a variety of approaches, including rolling your own (by getting your developers to create these) and using third party visual and tabular controls (our preferred supplier is Telerik). The first of these requires quite a lot of work, the second less so. But my preferred approach is to use Microsoft’s PowerBI because time is precious and PowerBI has a lot of built-in functionality that, in my experience makes creating a powerful, customisable business dashboard very quick. (Note: at the time of writing you will need to use the Desktop edition of PowerBI, but once you have created and saved your dashboard, you can publish and share it to the web, so that others in your management team can also view and use it).

Once you have enabled access to the different data sources that you want information from, you can quickly and easily create your dashboard in PowerBI (without any programming, just via mouse clicks and drag and drop etc.) as follows:

  1. In a new PowerBI report, add pages for each of the different areas of your business that you want to monitor on your dashboard. (A page is like a worksheet in Microsoft Excel: each page typically has room to show about 5 or 6 related tables, charts or cards).
  2. Add data sources to the report for each of the sources that you want information from. With OData, it is a simple matter of specifying the url (including security aspects, e.g. a security key parameter value).
  3. You can then drag tables, charts or cards to the canvas for each page and populate them with queries from the relevant data source(s).

PowerBI can identify (or you can tell it) relationships between different data tables, so that when you click on a particular category in a chart, for example, the other items on the page also change to reflect just the values for that particular category.

Please contact us if you would like help with building your corporate dashboard.

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