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Top business trends for dashboards in 2014

Top business trends for dashboards in 2014

Each year I write a blog post to share my thoughts on the leading trends in the market for the coming year. In the past, I've made predictions for business intelligence as a whole. This year, I wanted to refine my focus and examine the trends specifically affecting the business dashboard market – a rapidly growing and maturing space within BI.

Top business dashboard trends for 2014

Here are my picks for the top trends in the business dashboard market for 2014:

5. Business users will drive dashboard deployments

One of the key trends we noticed in 2013 was that line of business users – the executive, the marketing analyst, the account manager – were the ones evaluating and vetting dashboard software, rather than IT departments. Many of our customers have been frustrated by software deployments that are expensive, time-consuming, and that ultimately have poor adoption rates. The solution, as they see it, is to jump into the software themselves and take ownership for the development and deployment of that solution.

This trend will continue in 2014 for a number of reasons. First, business users are increasingly willing to "get their hands dirty" with the data, the software, and everything in between. Second, deployments that have buy-in from front line users are much more likely to succeed, and thus influence the growth of the solution throughout the organization (see trend #3). Lastly, self-service features and improved application usability ensure that technical barriers (eg: complexity) will be overcome to better target end users.

This also has to do with the fact that a significant portion of IT budgets are now sitting the hands of marketing and sales teams as organizations recognize that IT is no longer the best group to be all decisions around the use of technology. ITs role is to facilitate and assist in the deployment, but business users are playing a larger role in technology decisions making than in the past. One of the reasons behind this is that IT used to be the only experts. This is still true in many cases, but cloud-computing has made much easier for non-technical persons to research, find relevant information, and become a knowledgeable buyer.

4. Full service self-service

This trend is influenced by the previous trend in that dashboards and, more broadly, BI tools need to be targeted towards end-users with a lower technical skillset. The challenge here isn't just to offer an intuitive and painless user experience, it's also to offer advanced functionality without adding a new layers of complexity. Striking a balance between these two sets of requirements will be an important challenge for dashboard vendors in 2014.

In a recent article, Dan Woods wrote about the need for BI to focus on the "top of the funnel", in other words, focusing on the end user. Done right, self-service puts the end-user in the driver's seat allowing them to take control of the dashboard deployment without extraneous IT involvement. The benefit of self-service is improved user adoption because the people actually developing and implementing the solution have first-hand knowledge of the business requirements.

3. Grass roots growth of dashboard deployments

With more end-users leading dashboard adoption and with self-service features enabling those users to achieve their objectives, dashboard deployments are taking on a distinctly grass roots flavour. These types of deployments start organically with a single champion or department to solve an immediate business problem, but once the proof of concept is validated, the solution can quickly spread throughout the organization. As well, grass roots deployments can be managed in stages, reducing the risk of failure and lowering the total cost of ownership, and are much more successful in the long run because they build proper infrastructure from the ground up.

2. Accepted everywhere: credit card purchases

Your first instinct may to be scoff at this trend, but I assure, the shift towards credit card payments is indicative of a larger, more important trend: capital expenses versus operational expenses.. In the past, dashboard or BI deployments were capital expense requiring multiple approvals. However, with the rise of cloud computing and, in particular, SaaS offerings business users can purchase dashboards as an operational expense using a credit card.

The influx of line of business users into the dashboard market has resulted in more user-friendly, self-service oriented dashboard development. At the heart of it all is the fact that reduced costs means that getting quicker ROI.

1. Real-time data for the opportunist in you

In today's business environment, it's not always the strong that survive (and thrive) – it's the opportunists. Tracking key processes and metrics in real-time is about gaining a tactical advantage, the ability to act while your competition is still reacting. And while Big Data gets all the attention, real-time data from the front-lines is an undeniably important asset, and one that is going to be increasingly utilized.

This trend is made possible because of the growth, maturation, and pervasive availability of APIs (Application Programming Interfaces). APIs allow your dashboard to communicate directly with your data services, like a power conduit between the two. As dashboard vendors and 3rd party service providers invest more into APIs, the ability to pull real-time data into your own application and to do more with that data will continue to grow exponentially.

One trend to rule them all?

Taken individually, these trends point to some exciting advancements in the business dashboard space in 2014; taken together, however, and a pattern emerges that points to an important shift in attitudes towards data. Data, or rather the insights that come from analyzing data, is more valued in today's business environment than ever before. This is evident in the number of folks turning to BI tools and the number of competitors in this space.

These changing attitudes have given rise to a new class of data-driven, business junkies that are leveraging data to run their business like a well-oiled machine. This cultural shift has been underway for several years, and still hasn't reached its tipping point. In the meantime, people are increasingly using data dashboards to track their business at every level and this is the real trend to watch in 2014.

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