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How do I develop dashboards that maximize the value of Salesforce data? – Part 2

06/24/14 by Craig

In my previous blog, I covered four key questions that should drive your dashboard design decisions. Today, I will discuss the tools and approaches to best meet your objectives. There are two common approaches to building dashboards for Salesforce data. The first is to use the standard Salesforce reporting tools and the second to adopt prepackaged solutions that are off platform, SaaS reporting tools. Any user who has experienced either of these paths knows that both options have their limitations. These options are so generic that they simply do not model anyone’s actual business data and they mainly deal with real-time data rather than historical trending or real analytics.

I’m happy to tell you that there are two better choices available! The first involves a relatively new option: customized, native Salesforce dashboards. These are now possible due to release and continual development of the Salesforce Analytics API. The flexibility enables you to present robust dashboards customized to the business that can be managed by your Salesforce Admin. The second option is to adopt a high-powered data visualization and analytics package. These can be very effective in meeting a diverse set of user needs. However, it includes added cost and the need to maintain another set of tools outside of the Salesforce platform. Both of these approaches can turn your Salesforce reports into actionable dashboards that help improve sales productivity through visibility and control.

Putting Dashboard Design into Production

After designing a great dashboard and involving stakeholders at each step of the process, you must determine how to deliver your dashboard in a way that works for both your audiences and your organization’s budget. The good news is that the Salesforce platform supports a wide range of options with respect to how you actually deliver that dashboard. Let’s take a high-level look at fantastic ways to implement these options and under which circumstances they make the most sense:

A Low Cost Solution, Native to the Platform and Scalable for a Large Workforce

Salesforce has a powerful Analytics API that allows you to leverage your Reports to drive metrics, lists, and visualizations all within the native environment of APEX and JavaScript. The availability of powerful visualization libraries and services means that you can quickly render your Salesforce Report data in a variety of standard and custom charting options. Whether you decide to use the Google Charting API service or a JavaScript library like D3js, you can scale the solution to a large audience without having the added cost of additional licenses.

Custom Visualforce pages are the perfect environment for blending the Salesforce Analytics API, open source visualization frameworks, and some Java Scripting know-how. The beauty of this approach is that you can integrate custom form elements into your dashboard and take its “operational” features to the next level. An every-day dashboard can be thought of as a “console” where the user can see critical metrics AND act upon specific tasks all within the same window. This type of solution lets you include features and capabilities that might not be available in a pure visualization platform.
Sales Rep Dashboard

High-Powered Visualizations for Your Executives and Senior Managers

For more complex visualizations and analytical dashboards that combine multiple data sets and a large amount of data, you might be looking at a tool like Tableau to satisfy the demands of upper management and your business analysts. Salesforce makes it easy to integrate third-party visualizations directly into your existing page layouts using Canvas.

The benefit of this approach is that it gives you wide latitude with respect to visualization options and still renders the dashboard within the platform. Although you’ll have the added expense of your visualization tool user licenses, this may be the only approach that gives your executives the type of on-demand discovery that they are looking for.
Tableau Canvas

The Beginning

In an upcoming blog post, we’ll be examining more closely the specifics of the Salesforce Analytics API, Salesforce Canvas applications, and how you can leverage both to give a 360-view into your Salesforce data at every level of the organization. For now, we hope you now understand that there are two new methods for rendering Salesforce dashboards that are more effective at delivering results and improving sales staff productivity. If you would like to learn more about leveraging either of these methods, feel free to reach us anytime at info@seahorce.com.