While this is not a regular Excel tip, but it is about Excel. In my Excel BI Tips series, I am always looking for ways to build Excel dashboards or do BI work with Excel that will help everyone. In this case, I am going to discuss a new feature in Excel 2013 and Office 2013 and some of the drawbacks we discovered while trying to bring dashboards into production on SharePoint.
Excel Apps, What Is That?
With the introduction of Office 2013 and SharePoint 2013, Microsoft added the capability to create apps that can be used in the various Office applications to provide enhanced capabilities. I was most interested in the ability to bring in new visualizations in Excel that could be used for creating dashboards on my projects. One of the key advantages of using them, was that they worked when deployed to Excel Services in SharePoint without installing anything on SharePoint.
Here some examples of visualizations I planned to use.
Gauges by DataVis Design
People Graph by Microsoft
Modern Chart by Microsoft
Bing Maps by Microsoft
There are a number of other visualization options that are free or for some charge as well as other functions. You can find more of them and more information about Office Apps here.
Initial User Experience Is Poor
After getting a couple of these visualizations in a dashboard over the period of a couple of weeks were were ready to deploy the dashboards for user acceptance. Each user who opens the dashboard will have to clear the following install message from each app when they load the dashboard.
While not a “big” deal for savvy users, this is really an unacceptable user experience for less savvy or less patient users. Furthermore, this could easily turn into a support nightmare as each new user is likely to call or email support regardless of the amount of instructions provided. Given that some of our audience was likely going to be executives, we determined that this would not work for us and would actually reflect poorly on our project.
Ongoing User Experience Issue
So, if you decide to move forward with these apps, you dashboard can look pretty good. However, this brings up a more long term issue. Each of the visualizations created have one or more settings buttons that remain visible, even after deployment. For instance, the gauges have a “gear” and a “question mark.” One the first requests we got from power users reviewing the dashboard was to hide them. As far as I can tell this is not possible. Next, the question was “why doesn’t the question mark contain information about the metric being displayed?” Great question, but the question mark is there to provide information about the gauge not the content. Once again, users don’t need that information. These issues reinforced our decision to remove them from our executive level dashboards and not recommend their use in other dashboards.
I am not sure if the problem lies in the way the apps were created or with what Microsoft has enabled in the API designs. In the end, these visualizations need to have a “deployment view” or something similar that will hide all this as well as deploy cleanly for end users. These apps do provide some cool visualizations that are not readily available elsewhere, but they need to be cleaner or more elegant for use in general dashboards deployed in SharePoint. Understanding these nuances will hopefully help you make the better decisions about dashboard design in Excel with Office Apps.