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TechTip: Produce Dashboards with MS Excel



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So you don't want to spend $60,000 to create a management dashboard using your iSeries data? Good. You don't have to! You can create a professional, full-featured reporting dashboard for a lot to be exact. Yes, free. Using Microsoft's Excel, you can import real-time external (iSeries) data and create a collection of graphs and other visual aids to bring your company's critical business data together into an attractive, comprehensive page.

Free software from PlanetJ will enable you to easily produce the dashboard, which allows managers to view critical data and make fast, accurate decisions. For an example, see Figure 1:

Figure 1: Break your data into easy-to-read graphs and charts. (Click images to enlarge.)

Step 1: Retrieve the Data

Excel provides many options to retrieve data. This TechTip will focus on Excel's under-used, but powerful Web Query feature, which you can access through Microsoft's easy-to-use wizard that allows you to visually select a table from any Web page. To access this wizard, pull down the Data menu, expand Import External Data, and select New Web Query (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Create a new Web query in Excel.

This will open a browser-like window that displays the home page of the default Internet browser. You will notice that there are small yellow boxes with black arrows (if the Web page contains a table and you are using a Windows XP or later OS). Each of these arrows represents an HTML table within the Web page (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Select data for the Web query.

Now, enter the Web page containing the desired data. You may use any available Web application that renders an HTML table. Note: A blue outline will appear around all selected tables. After all tables are selected, click the Import button.

Step 2: Create the Dashboard/Report

At this point, the data from the Web query should be displayed nicely in Excel's standard tabular worksheet. Now that the data has been imported, the next step is to simply format the data.

It is recommended that the imported data be separated from its stylized form using different sheets in Excel. Once you have done this, use a new blank sheet to begin building the dashboard.

In Figure 1, a combination of colors, graphs, charts, and a few imported pictures were used to create a sophisticated and professional presentation using live iSeries data. The data is retrieved from the iSeries via the Web query, and then you use Excel for all other development. Anything that you can do in MS Excel is available--charts, pivot tables, and graphs. See Figure 4 for an example. Suddenly, your data is displayed visually! (Consult Excel's Help Menu if you need some additional guidance.)

Figure 4: View your data easily in the form of charts, graphs, etc.

A Couple of Other Options

To really impress your managers, here are some other ideas that are easily implemented into your dashboard:

  • With time-critical data, use one of Excel's convenient date and time functions, such as "=CURRENT()." This will display the last date and time at which the data was refreshed. The Web query can be configured to refresh the data from your iSeries every minute or as required.
  • Using Excel's macro recorder, throw in a macro that records your mouse clicks and keystrokes to re-create whatever series of actions you like. In Figure 4, the Refresh Data button in the middle right is an example of a macro that refreshes all the data. It took less than a minute to create...and no coding.

It's Free and Easy

Using MS Excel's ability to create Web Queries can provide you a powerful utility. Creating these types of dashboards is a breeze, so be creative! For more info, contact PlanetJ Corporation at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 760.432.0600.

Matt Jensen is a WOW technical specialist and developer at PlanetJ Corporation. Paul Holm is a senior web developer and WOW consultant. For a free executive dashboard file, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..