Articles in this series:
Getting Started with Datazen
The story you are about to read is going to sound too good to be true but it is true and it’s awesome.
About two years ago, I was helping a big consulting client evaluate mobile BI dashboard options for their Microsoft BI solution. A friend on the BI platform team at Microsoft asked for my thoughts about a new mobile dashboard tool called Datazen. My initial impression was that the product needed to mature to meet my client’s needs but the interactivity and visual experience was stunning. Half joking (in a Freudian sort of way), I told him that Microsoft should buy the company and finish integrating it with their BI platform. Imagine my delight when I learned last month that it actually happened.
When I discovered that Component Art was the company behind Datazen, I knew it was going to be a hit because they have been making great data visualization and UI tools for Visual Studio since the inception of the .NET Framework. There are a lot of developer component suites on the market but these guys really have the presentation layer figured out. I think Datazen has come of age. Honestly the effort to design data view queries and dashboards isn’t trivial but I think it’s worth the investment.
What is Datazen?
It’s a robust, enterprise-scale server-hosted mobile dashboard platform that works on every mobile platform – the iPad and iPhone, Windows desktop, tablet and phone, Android devices and HTML5 with full fidelity. To use Datazen, you don’t need SharePoint, a cloud subscription, Office or any other software. I know… right? I’m still pinching myself. The icing on the cake is that it’s free for SQL Server Enterprise customers with version 2008 or later and Software Assurance.
Every dashboard can have three layouts optimized for desktop viewing, a tablet and a smart phone. Ideally, dashboards are viewed with an application installed on the client device but they can also be viewed in a web browser when connected to the server. The client-side apps actually cache most-recent data and can be viewed in disconnected mode. If you’re familiar with SQL Server Reporting Services, the Datazen server architecture is similar in some ways. The server can just be a stand-alone Windows Server machine running IIS or it can be scaled-out to accommodate more users and higher traffic volumes.
Data Sources – Out of the box, Datazen supports SQL Server, SQL Server Analysis Services (multidimensional and tabular), SharePoint Lists, Microsoft Azure SQL Database, OData Web Service, XML Web Service, Generic ODBC, MySQL (ODBC), Oracle (ODBC and OLE DB), PostgreSQL (ODBC and OLE DB) and Excel documents on the server. Unless you’re using dBase or FoxPro, you should be covered.
User Authentication & Management - Windows users are organized into groups and centered around “hubs”, which are communities for managing collections of dashboards, KPIs and collaboration discussions. Content can also be configured for anonymous use and can be accessed externally over the web.
Caching, Parameters & Filters – Dashboards perform fast when data is cached (on the server or the client). A number of data selection controls are used to filter dashboard results against cached or live results using query parameters. Drop-down lists, checkbox lists and date range selectors are an integral part of the interactive dashboard experience.
Interactivity & Navigation
As soon as a user begins using a dashboard, they figure out that everything is interactive. The interface just screams “touch me!” If a control isn’t a range selector, drop-list or multi-value check list; at the very least it will show pop-up bubbles with more details. Controls support drill-through actions, passing context parameters to other dashboards or web pages with a customized URL string. Using actions, a dashboard can drill-through to an operational detail report.
In a series of articles to follow, I’m going to show you how to build a Datazen solution to evaluate the product. A fully secured and scaled-out production solution will require a few more steps but this will get you started with real dashboards using real data. Here’s a peek at an interactive dashboard in the layout for a desktop or tablet:
…and the same dashboard for a phone:
In the next article we setup the Datazen server in preparation for designing basic dashboards in Part 2. Later on, we’ll explore advanced designs and dashboard interactions using parameters and drill-through navigation.
What You’ll Need
Datazen Enterprise Server is installed on a Windows Server with Internet Information Services. The current build doesn’t even require a SQL Server instance. The server will need to have connectivity to data sources for dashboards. In a production environment, you’ll need access to an SMTP service to send email notifications to new users. We can work-around this requirement on a test and demo server.
To author and publish dashboards, you’ll need the Datazen Publisher app which runs on a Windows 8.x or Windows 10 device. Data Zen Publisher is a free download from the Windows Store.
To view dashboards and KPIs, collaborate with other users and to cache dashboard data for offline access, users need the Datazen App which is a free download from the Apple App Store, Google Play for Android, Windows Store or the Windows Phone Store.
Datazen Enterprise Server download from Microsoft
Datazen Get Started, Documentation and Resources