Datazen first client test!

I got to use Datazen for the first time in anger with a client this week, and my experience was a bit of a mixed bag. There are elements of it which are neat but a fair few niggles.

Things to love

It’s pretty. The simple visualisations mean it is easy to create a nice looking, uncluttered dashboard with minimal fuss and tweaking. The responsive design means cross device functionality is pretty good and looks nice. It’s also quick to build and change content.

Quick learning tips

First up, let’s get some practical learnings shared:

  1. Use views or stored procs behind your data if hitting a SQL Source. Datazen has no query editor (just a big text box) and doesn’t always handle parameters gracefully. Plus debugging is a pain as error massages are often less than helpful (e.g. “Data Preview Failed”)
  2. Set report friendly field names in you query as you can’t always manage them in designer – sometimes you can, sometimes you can’t.
  3. Selecting the ‘All’ option on a Selection List Navigator sends back ” (empty string) as the parameter value to the query, so handle that rather than NULL.

Now, some major drawbacks:

  1. Consistency of cross platform behaviour is not great. I found some drillthoughs didn’t work on iOS or Android. Windows 8 seems to be the go to client. It’s not fatal but for fussy clients it’s a hard sell that this cross platform tool doesn’t work as expected.
  2. The Win 7 Publisher app is unstable, buggy and seems to have features missing – such as proper configuration for report drillthrough. It’s only been around a few weeks so it’s forgivable but if you have to use it seriously, make sure you have a Win 8 client somewhere to do your development work on.
  3. The charting is actually quite limited. There’s no stacked bar, for example. Line charts can only be by time. Labeling and colours are pretty hard to control, often rendering components useless. A great example is the category chart (bar chart) – the renderer will sometimes decide not to display category labels – which then means you just have a nice picture of some bars with no context as to what each one is, like this:
Could be cat population by state for all I know
Could be cat population by state for all I know

Finally some irritations:

These are some of the things that got annoying as I used the product – not an exhaustive list – and small enough I’d expect them to be fixed relatively soon.

  1. You cannot update columns on a grid component if the underlying column names change – you have to rebuild component (a small task but annoying during development)
  2. You cannot set the Low/Neutral/High ranges for gauge columns on indicator grids so they match settings for other gauges
  3. You cannot align numbers – and they are aligned left which is not good dataviz practice
  4. There is no handling for outliers on heatmaps so one extreme value will screw your shading
  5. You can’t cascade drillthrough to a level below
  6. The data preview after creating a data view has no Scroll bar so if there’s a lot of fields you can’t see them
  7. There are maps provided but you have to work out how they are keyed yourself so you can connect your data (to be addressed in a future post)
  8. You can’t “oversize” the canvas so phone users can scroll down.
  9. Nobody’s using it – or at least talking about it – so help is hard to find.

A lot of irritation boils down to “I want to set that but I can’t”. This I’m sure is partly design, partly product maturity.

My takeaway.

After a week with the product I get a real sense that it’s not even a v1 product yet. Maybe v0.9. There’s lots of niggles in the product – and not just at the back end where users can’t see them. I could tolerate the back end weaknesses if the end user experience was great, but there’s holes there. Still, there’s a lot of good that can be done. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares given PowerBI has such a huge feature overlap.

3 thoughts on “Datazen first client test!

  1. Hi James, few month ago, I had the opportunity to work to a project that used this product.
    My point of view / learnings:
    1. The tool provide a strong partnership with the business, creating the prototype and showing the usability.
    2. The prototype is essential to build the technical specification.
    3. Consider to create a library of KPIs and calculated values that can be reused by other dashboards
    4. The C&UT must be focused to create objects (procedures / views) that return exactly what need to be displayed on the dashboard
    5. Avoid to return a large number of rows; the main idea is provide information to human using a small device – more than 100 lines make sense?
    6. Your customer will try to use it as a new reporting tool… make sense create a dashboard to show a invoice? (silly example)
    7. Consider the intensive use of the drill through – the annoying is the absence of a resource to return back

  2. Hello James and Cesar,

    Completly agree with you both, my objective was to make a poc with news Microsoft bi Tools for my company and *on-premise*, because we don’t have accees on ms cloud. So : go to testing Datazen recently bought by MS :-).
    I have choiced to test Publisher client on windows7 recently out too…the total..
    And same as you : at the beginning : “Waaa the design, the demo…etc… !”
    And After…50-50% 😐

    My archi case :
    – Authentication on AD
    – Datazen Server on windows2008R2
    – 2 datazen server in 2 different versions (I have no found to update the first without all reinstall) but the same datas Dashboard (thks Christopger Finlan http://christopherfinlan.com for helps)
    – Datazen client publisher, tested on another machine windows7, after directly on datazen servers

    My POV :
    Microsoft should be clarify the position between :
    – Microsoft PowerBI : right now in cloud for the server, and powerBI desktop (vs Publisher for datazen)
    – Microsoft Datazen : V3.x now but unstable : but scability for 100% on-premise : exactly what I need :-)
    – The Datazen’s philo is “design first” : go ahead so
    – Publisher is completly unstable
    – Dashboards’ demo are based on few rows of datas : so demo goes fast :-) : for me I taked few dim, fact tables but the fact has more 38 000 rows…And I taked fields only needed as said Cesar
    – My main problems come from Publisher (Ok, I will try on *my* workstation W8.1, but the goal is all archi in our infra VM and we can’t now)
    – When I change a property, attibute, a param in Publisher and I save : Publisher didn’t save them :-(
    – unstability with the connection between client and server (already reinstalled several times the client)
    – Like James when I import > 6-8 data views : scroll bar….don’t see correctly all data views :-(
    – Like James : label lines chart disappear on category charts…

    – Forum Microsoft ??? Woo…Woo…. ? No datzen forum ! WTF !
    Support@datazen.com ? already writed….answer : create MS ticket and link for datazen FAQ, WIKI, docs…
    – For me need : mobile and tablet design : good point
    – I would like to test ADFS later
    – Licensing : (sql server ent >2008 in SA) : not cheap…so datzen : go ahead to give a good product :-)
    I believe about this product !!

    Herve.

  3. RE: “There are maps provided but you have to work out how they are keyed yourself so you can connect your data (to be addressed in a future post)” – I’m just trying to work this out myself as I’d like to get some UK bubble maps working!

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