Software dashboards

By Phil Couling, Wonderware November 1, 2007

Business demand for increased operational performance across multiple sites has been the impetus behind enterprise integration, and, in turn, has prompted the need for software “dashboards” that provide real-time information on plant operations and overall performance.

Such enterprise-wide software applications let a facility’s entire operation be viewed by everyone in an organization in a way that best suits their role, from plant operators to executive management.

Dynamic online dashboards have become much more sophisticated over the years and now offer user-defined and automatic queries, charts, tabular displays, key performance indicator (KPI) flags, and links to other dashboards. A dashboard should provide the most information a user needs to do his or her job in a single dynamic screen. Dashboard designs that include the following functionality provide the most powerful search and query capabilities. They are:

Plant intelligence data generated by historian applications can contribute to dashboards, but the data itself is not a dashboard. A dashboard application gathers and delivers data from historians, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and many other sources, and ensures that it can be accessed as needed. Online dashboards delivered via Web portals enable employees to access secure, role-specific information from any workstation in the plant, or from any remote workstation around the world. Portals publish the data across the Web or company intranet and allow each user to create an individual dashboard that aggregates content and applications. This enables them to focus on the business decisions at hand without the delays and expense of needing IT experts to customize a view.

The idea of viewing enterprise information through a Web portal tool is not new. A variety of solutions let a user personalize a desktop or dashboard and view information from several sources in a simple browser window. What is not common, however, and what is the key to real value in such an application, is the ability to explore relationships between information from those disparate sources in ways that may not have been imagined by the application designers. This serves the real point of having humans involved in the analysis process, which is to facilitate our ability to sense patterns and relationships that do not lend themselves to strict mathematical rendering.

All within a Web browser

What is unique, extremely powerful, and highly valuable about the latest online portals is the ability for one who is not an SQL programmer to easily navigate across multiple disparate data sources without leaving the browser dashboard environment. The browser enables users to access real-time dashboards and pre-designed reports of plant activities as well as the occasional requirement for ad hoc analysis. Web-based reports and dashboards can provide real-time visibility into what happens on actual equipment.

and to strategize on improvements.

Phil Couling is marketing program manager for HMI-supervisory solutions at Wonderware.For more information, visit: