Why I really like Datazen as a visualization tool

I was really excited when I saw that Microsoft had bought Datazen. I have been able to use Datazen for a while already, and I really like the product. At the Gurus of Business Intelligence conference in Oslo in 2014 I was lucky enough to be able to have a session together with Marc Reguera, @marcreguera, where I spoke about mobile and touch based reporting using Datazen as the example app.

Now why do I like Datazen? First of all I think they have a clear vision, a vision I like. They want to create great data visualizations for mobile and touch based devices which are easily designed and shared with others. It is not a data discovery tool like Qlik or Tableau so you need to have your data organized in order to get the full effect. But when you are ready to create visualizations and share those with your coworkers it is really good in my opinion. You have predefined graphical elements you drag and drop onto your design surface and connect your data to. You also have the possibility to create custom maps and color palettes with backgrounds to get the right feel for your dashboards.

Datazen has three major components. You need a Datazen server in order to get data from other sources than local Excel files. When you have created a dashboard you are also able to deploy your dashboard to the Datazen server so it can be consumed by others. The server also grants you access to a control panel where you can setup KPIs, set permissions, set up connections to your data sources and create data views which can then be imported into your dashboards.

This brings us to the other two parts of the Datazen stack, the viewer and publisher apps. The publisher app is only available on Windows 8 devices at this point. This is where you import your data and create your dashboards before you can publish them to the server. The publisher itself is also made for touch so using f.ex a Surface to create visualizations on the go, or in a demo environment, is a real joy! It is quite fast to setup a dashboard design and connect your data to the graphical elements you have available. In my eyes this is a really important feature because it allows you to quickly iterate over different designs. I don’t know how many times a client has come back and said “But that’s not how I visualized the report in my head”. Now you can sit with your client and quickly make a new version of the same dashboard right there and then. I have several times prepared a dashboard to present in a demo, but have found myself creating a dashboard on the go instead. Because it is easy to do so. Because I can. You can even hand over your computer to the client and let them create the dashboard during your demo!

The viewer app lets you consume dashboards deployed to a Datazen server you have access and is available for all mobile platforms as a native app. If you are used to Android you will still have the Android feel unlike some apps that have been made to fit all platforms, but rarely do. When you design a dashboard you create several versions of the same dashboard to fit different resolutions. A dashboard made for a phone may have to emphasize different things than one made for a laptop, simply because some graphical elements, like a map, is perhaps not that suited for a small screen. Datazen also gives you offline access to your dashboard which I think is absolutely essential for all apps.

You can download the Datazen publisher for free from the Windows 8 store and use local Excel files to create your own stunning dashboards right away. If you want to share those dashboards or get data from your databases or other sources, you will need access to a Datazen server. When the announcement was made Microsoft also announced that SQL Server Enterprise Edition customers with version 2008 or later and Software Assurance are entitled to download the Datazen Server software at no additional cost. Give it a go. It is a really well made product, and a lot of fun to play with! The road from raw data to presenting them on a well made dashboard on someone else’s mobile phone is getting shorter!

For more information go to http://www.datazen.com/.

Example of a dashboard made with Datazen



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