Much thanks goes to our Dashboard Spy in the field, Alex Kerin, for giving us this detailed rundown of the upcoming Excel 12 (part of the new Office 2007) as a dashboarding product. Alex decided to give the Office 12 beta a shakedown by creating a sales dashboard. As he tells it,
"This is a partial recreation of a mock sales dashboard as shown in Stephen Few's book, Information Dashboard Design. It was created in Office 12 Beta – I thought I'd share some experiences. While Excel is not at all the best choice for deploying a dashboard, the realism is that some people are happiest here, and that MSFT will push this as an interface, even if it's through Office Web Components.
Anyway, firstly the sparklines – these are all small graphs – Office 12 does a pretty good job with these as the series line is now anti-aliased leading to a much more professional look. In general charting is nicer – the defaults at least are clearer and nicer than older versions of Office. Second, there are new conditional formatting options that allow you to add bars or threshold indicators directly to cells. These are pretty good, but definitely conceived with more thought to looks than usability. For example, in Few's book he points out that you should only highlight problem areas – i.e. a green symbol is unnecessary to show things are okay – just a red blip should show. To get just a red symbol to show I had to jump through a few hoops, including writing formulas.
There's another example of the conditional formatting in the bar chart at the bottom – it's okay, but you're forced to use a gradient as the fill – this gradient always fades to white which makes comparing similar values difficult – this hopefully will change after beta. This could function as a dashboard by using OLAP links to a datamart etc. expect to see more of these as MSFT increases its BI charge."
Thanks, Alex, for the insight into this new version. Not everyone is willing to go through the hassle of trying this beta – you've done a great service to the executive dashboard community by detailing your observations. As I've mentioned before when discussing the future of enterprise dashboards, I believe that the launch of Excel 12 will start a new "look" in digital dashboards. It is simple – the sheer size of the installed user base will mean that you will start seeing everywhere things like the gradient bars.
Homework: It's still early but if you want a head start, keep an eye on these upcoming books on Office 2007.
So what or who is The Dashboard Spy? As his about page states, The Dashboard Spy is just a guy interested in the design of enterprise dashboards. He could not find any executive dashboard design source books (or even screenshots of real business dashboards) and so set about creating his own. Finally convinced to post his extensive collection of dashboard screenshots online, he was amazed to find how popular it has become. If you have a nice screenshot of a digital dashboard, balanced scorecard, or any business intelligence graphic to share, please send an email to info _at_ dashboardspy.com. Also check out The Dashboard Spy's favorite books.