Building a PerformancePoint Dashboard

PerformancePoint services provides you with all of the tools to create a fully-functioning business intelligence dashboard. Right out of the box you have everything you need from analytic reports to KPI scorecards. In order to build these PerformancePoint objects, Microsoft has provided you with the PerformancePoint Dashboard Designer. This dashboard designer gives you a visual interface to build all of your PerformancePoint objects, as well as an interface to put these objects in to a fully-functioning dashboard. This blog entry will cover the latter of these two tasks: Building a PerformancePoint dashboard. The interface provided by Dashboard Designer is sometimes a little bit cumbersome to use, but if used right, it is a powerful tool for creating dashboards.

There are 4 basic tasks to creating a fully-functioning PerformancePoint dashboard: (1) Laying out the wireframe for the dashboard, (2) adding the PerformancePoint objects to the dashboard, (3) creating connections between the PerformancePoint objects, and (4) deploying the dashboard to SharePoint. In this post I will walk through the steps of accomplishing these tasks, and I will also provide some tricks and design tips to building a user-friendly dashboard.

Laying Out the Zones

The first thing that Dashboard Designer asks you to do once you create a new dashboard is to pick a page template for your dashboard. These page templates contain web part zones that are made specifically for PerformancePoint objects. The web part zones determine the size and location of the PerformancePoint objects that you put in them, so it is important that you have an idea about what your dashboard will look like before you actually create the dashboard. It is important to remember to keep the number of parts on your dashboard to a minimum. Each time you add something to the dashboard certain parts resize in an attempt to fit the entire view in the user’s browser without forcing him or her to scroll around. Once the objects get too small the user will start to lose legends and subtitles from the reports on the dashboard, which decreases the overall usability. So it is important to design a dashboard that will give plenty of space to each of the objects on it. If you find that you don’t have enough space for everything, consider creating a separate page for certain parts of the dashboard.

Once you have a design in mind, it is time to create the dashboard. On the page template selection dialog, choose the layout that is the closest to your design. The template will be completely customizable after, so don’t worry about it being exactly like your design. Once you’ve chosen a template and clicked “Ok”, you will be brought to the main interface for designing your dashboard. On this interface you will see a Dashboard Content panel. This will be the main panel used for laying out your dashboard. In order to customize the layout we will be using the context menu that comes up when you right-click on one of the zones in your dashboard. This context menu is shown in the image below.

Context Menu

All of the options in the context menu are pretty self-explanatory; however the action that happens after you click each option may take some getting used to. The first options that you will probably make use of are the “Add ***” options. These options work pretty much the way you would expect them too: clicking the “Add Left” option will add a zone to the left of the zone you’ve selected, clicking “Add Below” will add a zone below the one you’ve selected, and so on. There are a few variations on the size of the new zone depending on which zone you click on, but I will explain that a little later. The next option that you will use a lot is the “Split Zone” option. Even though this option is pretty self-explanatory, you may begin to ask yourself: What determines the orientation of the split? At first it seems like Dashboard Designer just takes a guess at which way you would like to split the zone, but this is not true. The magic lies in the “Orientation” setting in the Zone Settings dialog.

Orientation

If you split a zone that is set to “Horizontal”, it will split from top to bottom. Otherwise, if you split a zone that is set to “Vertical” or “Stacked”, it will split the zone from left to right. Once you start splitting zones, the “Add ***” options will start behaving differently. For example, if you split a vertical zone that is currently one column on your dashboard (say, the left column), and then add a zone in between the two cells, the new zone will be added with the same width as the rest of the column. As is shown below:

Add Zone Center

However, if you add a zone above the top cell of a column, or below the bottom cell of a column, then you will get a new zone that spans the whole page. As is shown below:

Add Zone Above

By using only the Add and Split options, you should be able to tailor your dashboard to the desired layout. If you need to tweak the size of your zones you can use the settings under the “Size” tab of the Zone Settings dialog. Something to keep in mind though, is that when you specify a height or width in percentage, Dashboard Designer will always try to keep the total width and height as 100%. This means that increasing the size on one zone will most likely change the size of other zones.

Add PerformancePoint Objects

Once you have the wireframe of your dashboard the next step is dead simple. You simply need to click and drag all of the objects that you want on your dashboard in to their respective zones. This is literally all there is to it. You will find all of the available objects from your workspace in the Details panel on the right:

Details Panel

Once you drag and drop an object in to a zone you will see a list of properties displayed in the zone. This list of properties is what you use to create connections between the PerformancePoint objects. Creating these connections will be discussed in the next section. Once you’ve placed all of your objects in to their zones, you will have something that looks like this:

Objects Placed

Creating Connections

Creating connections between PerformancePoint objects is what makes it possible to have asynchronous interaction between the objects on your dashboard. Creating a connection allows one object to send information to another object in order to apply a filter to it. It is important to note that not all objects can send and receive information from other objects. In the above image you may have noticed that two of the PerformancePoint objects don’t have a list of properties. This is because analytic reports can only consume connections; they cannot provide connections. The chart below shows what kind of connections can be made with each PerformancePoint object.

Connection Chart

In order to create a connection from one object to another, you can use one of two methods: (1) you can click on the arrow at the top-right of an object and click “Create Connection”, or (2) you can drag one of the available properties from one object and drop it on another. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve always found it easier to use the second method, because when you drag a property from one object to another it makes it clear that you are sending information from the first object to the second object. In order to be complete however, I will cover both methods.

When you use the first method, clicking on the “Create Connections” menu item will bring up the Connection dialog. When the dialog comes up, you will automatically be within the context of the Items tab. This is the part of the dialog where you choose your source object, or your destination object depending on what kind of object you clicked on. If you clicked on a filter, you will be asked for a destination object, chosen from the “Send values to” drop-down. If you clicked on an analytic report or a scorecard, you will be asked for a source object, chosen from the “Get values from” drop-down. Once you’ve done this you can move on to the Values tab in the connection dialog. In this part of the dialog you will be able to choose the two end-points for your connection. In the “Connect to” drop-down you can choose which part of the destination object you want connect to, and in the “Source value” drop-down you can choose which value you would like to send from the source object.

When you use the second method, dragging a connection property from one object and dropping it on another will bring up the same dialog as before. However, this time you will automatically be in the context of the Values tab. This is because, by dragging and dropping, you have already defined your source object and your destination object. So the values in the Items tab will be filled out for you. You can then configure the settings under the Values tab in the same way that you did when using the first method.

Figuring out the proper end-points for the connections between objects is a more complex topic that is worthy of its own post, so I won’t get into any details here. For a good overview of what can be passed through connections between various PerformancePoint objects, refer to this MSDN blog. If you are looking for how to connect a time intelligence filter to other PerformancePoint objects, refer to my previous blog entry. Once you have created all of your connections, your dashboard content panel should look something like this:

Complete Connections

As you can see, each of the objects on the dashboard is showing a list of connections. Each connection listed shows the name of the object that that object is getting a value from. In other words, it is listing all of the source objects for the connections. Once this step is done, you are ready to deploy your dashboard to SharePoint.

Deploying to SharePoint

The task of deploying a dashboard to SharePoint doesn’t really take too much explanation. The only thing you have to do is right-click the dashboard object in the Workspace Browser panel on the left, and click “Deploy to SharePoint”. You can then choose a list to add the dashboard to, choose a master page to apply to the dashboard, and finally, decide whether or not you would like a page list displayed at the top of your dashboard for navigation. In most cases, all of the default selections will be sufficient. However, if you have added multiple pages to your dashboard, then I would highly recommend checking the “Include page list for navigation” checkbox. This will give your users a quick and easy way to switch back and forth between the pages that you have created.

One thing to note about dashboard deployment is that once you’ve deployed your dashboard to SharePoint, you can continue to edit the underlying objects without having to re-deploy the dashboard to SharePoint. Any changes you make to the underlying objects will automatically be reflected on the dashboard the next time you visit the page. The only time you will need to re-deploy is when you add objects, remove objects, change any of the connections, or tweak the layout on your dashboard. After you’ve deployed your dashboard to SharePoint you will automatically be taken to the first page of your dashboard. Success!

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