Excel has many strengths as a dashboard tool, but there are some limitations and gaps.

There are multiple definitions of what a dashboard should be, but one universal theme is the concept of a single screen. This is a real strength of Excel as users have low level control over the sizing and positioning of both tables and charts. Another strength is the charting itself, it covers the most commonly required chart types, and most users already have a reasonable understanding of how to use it.

XLCubed leverages everything which is good about Excel as a dashboard tool, and addresses the limitations to deliver a solution with increased capability and flexibility and Enterprise scalability. Here are three of the key limitations and how we address them.

1) Missing Chart Types

XLCubed provides a number of additional business focused chart types to extend those available in Excel itself, and provide a richer platform for dashboards.  These include interactive small multiple charts, treemaps, geospatial mapping and a rich library of in-cell charts including sparklines, KPIs and bullet graphs. Our in-cell chart library is particularly useful for dashboards where space is at a premium. Here the ability to easily create multiple small charts with in-cell charting has huge advantages. This enables creation of ‘Visual tables’, where the headline number is shown along with graphical elements for trend, comparison to target or exceptions. The Visual table approach is highly space-efficient, and brings together huge volumes of information in a manner which can be easily assimilated.

2) Changing Data Volumes

A classic problem in Excel reporting is where the size of a data table changes - how to handle growth from 10 to 20 rows where other data is being displayed beneath. XLCubed's viewport technology makes this easy, retaining all Excel's formatting and layout abilities whilst handling data growth.

3) Spreadmarts

XLCubed connects directly to server-based data and so avoids the issues associated with using Excel itself as the data store, where core data can be easily overtyped or become out of sync with the central repository. XLCubed addresses this fundamental issue and the ensuing problems which have made Excel so unpopular in many IT departments.

4) Report deployment

Excel is quick and nimble for report development, but is not well-suited for large scale distribution. It doesn’t handle multiple users well, and the alternative is distributing a potentially large workbook to hundreds of users each reporting cycle. For large deployments browser based access is the ideal. No client installation is required and users access a centrally updated version of the report. With XLCubed Web Edition, data-connected and interactive dashboards are developed in Excel, and simply published to the web for browser and mobile access. The web reports retain an active connection to the data, and also the dynamic nature of the in-Excel reports where required.

The XLCubed example above was one of the winners in Dashboard Insight's Dashboard competition. It makes use of a combination of visual tables with in-cell charting from the XLCubed chart library, and well designed 'standard' Excel charts. The competition was based around a personal finance dataset, and the background and some of the thought process behind the dashboard are available by clicking on the image.

Example: Hospital Outpatients

This dashboard was developed by Jim Uden of Meridian Surgical Partners, and was one of the winners of our 2008 Excel dashboard competition.

This dashboard was built for a company that owns and operates ambulatory (outpatient) surgery centres in partnerships with surgeons. The dashboard is a one page snapshot for the review and presentation of partnership level business operations and trends.

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Example: CIO

The CIO dashboard is from a design by field expert Stephen Few in his book “Information Dashboard Design”, which is essential reading for the thought processes and guidelines of effective dashboard design.

Stephen identified some of the key area of operational interest for a typical CIO, and brought the information together clearly and concisely on one page.

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