As a producer of data visualization and business dashboard software, Dundas continually strives to display its customers’ key performance indicators (KPIs) in ways that offer the best possible strategic insight. To put KPIs in the right context, many organizations want to combine internally gathered information with data feeds from outside sources—a process that has traditionally been cumbersome and expensive. To address this issue, Dundas updated its Dashboard product to support DataMarket, a part of Windows Azure Marketplace. Now customers can supply Dundas Dashboard with rich, reliable data from a single cloud-based source using a simple cost-effective subscription model. They can also easily modify dashboards for more contextualized KPIs with no development effort or additional storage hardware, saving money and improving business intelligence.Situation
Dundas Data Visualization produces data visualization and dashboard solutions that have been rapidly adopted by Fortune Global 500 companies around the world. The company's flagship product, Dundas Dashboard, offers a wide variety of highly customizable visualizations for dashboard projects which take advantage of the Microsoft .NET Framework, the Microsoft Silverlight development platform, and Microsoft SharePoint technology. A Microsoft Gold Certified Partner, Dundas has won numerous awards, including “Best of Tech-Ed” in Business Intelligence at the Microsoft Tech-Ed North America 2010 conference and eight consecutive SD Times 100 awards.
By using Dundas Dashboard, companies can create business dashboards based on data stored in databases such as Microsoft SQL Server. These dashboards display key performance indicators (KPIs), providing valuable business intelligence (BI) without requiring users to have IT expertise. The product is designed to accommodate businesses of any size operating in any market.
||With its consistent APIs, DataMarket becomes a simple tool that makes development very easy for our programmers and has saved us at least weeks and probably months of development time.
||Ayush Yash Shrestha
Professional Services Manager, Dundas Data Visualization
“Dashboard is a one-stop shop for bringing in data from various systems, building business models, and finding KPIs,” explains Ayush Yash Shrestha, Professional Services Manager at Dundas Data Visualization. “Through a simple drag-and-drop interface, a fairly sophisticated business user—without development experience—can turn raw data into a useful dashboard in about four steps. It’s self-service BI.”
As successful as Dashboard has been, Dundas wanted to improve it to address a BI need that has been traditionally difficult: contextualizing the customer’s internal BI data by comparing it with data from outside the enterprise. “A KPI without proper context is meaningless,” says Shrestha. “You can use your BI system to gather internal data and determine if you’re meeting your goals, but if you don’t have the ability to combine the data with outside information, then your goals may not be contextually sound.”
Companies usually deal with this issue by buying information from third-party providers, which means signing multiple agreements and establishing multiple data feeds that may use different formats. Although common, this approach can be cumbersome and expensive to implement, with high IT support requirements, especially if several information providers are used. Dundas sought a simpler, more cost-effective approach that would centralize and standardize external data sources and easily combine them with customers’ internal data to provide KPIs in the proper context.Solution
In July 2010, Dundas began working with DataMarket (a part of Windows Azure Marketplace), and decided to upgrade the Dashboard software to support it. DataMarket is an information marketplace within the Windows Azure platform that brings data, imagery, and real-time web services from leading commercial data providers and authoritative public data sources together into a single location, under a unified provisioning and billing framework.
“There are any number of services that provide specialized data for just, say, weather, commodity prices, or a specific vertical market,” says Shrestha. “We chose DataMarket because there’s no other service that provides as broad a spectrum of data, and it’s only going to get larger.” He adds that another advantage is the set of DataMarket APIs that make development and data access simple. Creating a prototype of Dashboard that was capable of incorporating DataMarket data required only two weeks to produce.
The Dashboard user interface is built using the Microsoft Silverlight 4 plug-in. The back end is powered by the Microsoft .NET Framework and relies on Microsoft SQL Server 2008 for its underlying relational database stores. “We went with SQL Server for the data stores because we have a lot of expertise in it, and it is the most robust database that we know for the job,” says Shrestha. “However, in the future, we expect to take advantage of SQL Azure as well.”
||Our customers just create a single DataMarket account, and they’re ready to get the specific data that they need. This will result in significant savings, especially for companies that would otherwise make several large business-to-business data purchases.
||Ayush Yash Shrestha
Professional Services Manager, Dundas Data Visualization
Using a Dundas-built connector, customers can access a variety of data through Dashboard by using their DataMarket credentials. “There’s actually no repetition in terms of development for customers to acquire more data, as there would be if we were dealing with multiple third-party providers and data feeds,” says Shrestha.
In addition to DataMarket, Dashboard interoperates with many databases and data repository products that customers may have deployed in their IT environment, such as SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, Visual FoxPro, and SharePoint lists (see Figure 1). A dashboard also can be modified through an API to interoperate with custom data sources.
Dundas Dashboard expects the newest version of Dashboard with DataMarket access to be commercially available in winter 2011.Benefits
With the updated version of Dundas Dashboard, customers can use information from DataMarket to contextualize KPIs for better business intelligence. Developing Dashboard with DataMarket access was easy for Dundas, and modifying dashboards to include any type of DataMarket information is easy for customers, saving them time and money. Additionally, by supporting DataMarket, Dundas gains a competitive advantage over other digital dashboard providers and expects to open new business opportunities and expand the company’s customer base.
Enhances Business Intelligence to Promote Customer Growth
Using Dundas Dashboard with DataMarket, customers can improve business intelligence by taking advantage of easily managed, reliable external data that puts their KPIs into better context. Shrestha says, “Before the advent of DataMarket, companies were able to provide context for their internal data, but the process was disjointed and cumbersome, and required specialized IT development. Now, with the combination of DataMarket and Dashboard, it’s a trivial task.”
Context is enhanced by the reliability of DataMarket information, Shrestha adds. “The data provided through DataMarket is vetted. Although many providers do provide high-quality data, some don’t. Without a service such as DataMarket in place, there is a risk of businesses adding inaccurate data to their dashboards. With DataMarket being such a reliable source, we’re able to provide meaningful context that few other dashboard providers offer at this time. That, in turn, means our customers have the contextualized KPIs that they need to give them strategic insight and help them make better business decisions.”
Reduces Development Time and Effort
|Figure 1. By using Dundas Dashboard, companies can combine data |
from a variety of internal sources along with DataMarket information.
DataMarket uses a Representational State Transfer (REST)–based model for consuming services across the content catalog and offers data views in tabular form or as Open Data Protocol (OData) feeds. Shrestha explains how this standardized approach simplifies his team’s development efforts: “Without having a standard in place, we’d be forced to write all kinds of web services and retrieval mechanisms to get data from the right places and put it into the proper format for processing. However, Microsoft has designed the DataMarket APIs with OData to make it easy to consume data in a broad array of applications—desktop applications, web applications, services, and so on—and they can be written in any sort of programming environment.”
Shrestha adds that, for Dashboard, the integration process with DataMarket is just a function call to get data, rather having to write procedures for data access, optimization, and filtering. “With its consistent APIs, DataMarket becomes a simple tool that makes development very easy for our programmers and has saved us at least weeks and probably months of development time.”Lowers Data Acquisition and Management Costs
With DataMarket, Dundas customers benefit from a simple, cost-effective subscription model that’s easy to manage. “Before, customers would have to resort to having multiple license agreements with different providers,” says Shrestha. “Now, our customers just create a single DataMarket account, and they’re ready to get the specific data that they need. This will result in significant savings, especially for companies that would otherwise make several large business-to-business data purchases.”
|Figure 2. Finished dashboards can combine many different graphical|
elements to help users make strategic business decisions.
Not only would the previous approach be expensive, but it would also waste data management resources. Shrestha explains, “Without DataMarket, customers would end up buying a lot of data from multiple providers that they don’t need—data that has to be protected, managed, and backed up, even if they never use it.”
The cloud-based nature of the Windows Azure platform, in general, and of DataMarket in particular, saves hardware and maintenance costs. Shrestha says, “After we go to a customer site and set up servers and dashboards, connecting to DataMarket in the cloud is a minor exercise. We don’t have to bring in any additional hardware. When customers purchase data from third-party sources, they usually have to invest in more hardware to store all the information. However, because DataMarket operates in the cloud, that hardware need disappears, and customers save money.” Helps Expand Business, Provides a Competitive Edge
Dundas is one of the first companies to include DataMarket in a dashboard application, giving the solution provider a major advantage over its competitors. “If a customer is comparing Dundas Dashboard with a competing product that does not use DataMarket, we immediately have an edge thanks to the vast additional resources that DataMarket provides,” says Shrestha.
Because DataMarket makes it easy for Dundas to include vital external data sources in its Dashboard product, the company can focus more of its time and labour resources on expanding the business. Shrestha says, “Customers often expect us to offer analysis services in addition to pure data visualization, which in the past we did not have the resources to provide. With DataMarket, we’re now in a position to offer this additional level of service, which will help us expand our customer base and increase revenue.”
Summarizing the benefits of DataMarket, Shrestha concludes, “We can build new dashboards for a customer once, and they can be easily improved as the DataMarket data catalog continues to gain depth. We can integrate additional KPI context into existing dashboards with a few mouse clicks, versus the old approach of reengineering the system. And we will increasingly be able to help customers analyze and act on the improved business intelligence. Those are value propositions that customers can really appreciate. We’re thrilled with the work that we’ve done with DataMarket so far and very excited to have it as a part of our Dashboard solution.”
Windows Azure Platform
The Windows Azure platform provides an excellent foundation for expanding online product and service offerings. The components include:
Microsoft SQL Azure. Microsoft SQL Azure offers the first cloud-based relational and self-managed database service built on Microsoft SQL Server technologies.
Windows Azure. Windows Azure is the development, service hosting, and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute, storage, and bandwidth, and a content distribution network to host, scale, and manage web applications through Microsoft data centers.
Windows Azure AppFabric. With Windows Azure AppFabric, developers can build and manage applications more easily both on-premises and in the cloud.
– AppFabric Service Bus connects services and applications across network boundaries to help developers build distributed applications.
– AppFabric Access Control provides federated, claims-based access control for REST web services.
Windows Azure Marketplace DataMarket. Developers and information workers can use the new service DataMarket to easily discover, purchase, and manage premium data subscriptions in the Windows Azure platform.
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