iDashboards Products | Tips & Tricks

iDashboards Features Spotlight: Cascading Parameters

We’ve all been there: You’re hunting for the exact answer to your problem through a crowded field of options. Take shoe shopping, for example! Say you’re a bridesmaid in a wedding, and you have to wear lavender peek-a-boo kitten heels (yeesh). You could paw through pages and pages of shoes on your favorite online shoe store, or even head into a brick-and-mortar to peruse the racks. What you really need to be doing is narrowing down all of your options until you get to the right one.  That’s what cascading parameters (or hierarchal filters) are all about: Narrowing down your data to get to the answer you need. Also, don’t kid yourself – you’re only going to wear those shoes once.

Cascading Parameters | Filtering data in a dashboard

Bows, too? Oh man. These are going straight to Goodwill after the wedding.

How do you tell the story?

If I were to try to explain cascading parameters to, say, my mom, I’d use online shopping as a metaphor. She can put in a generic search (i.e. women’s shoes), and then use the sidebar to narrow down what she’s looking for (size 7, lavender, kitten heel, moderate price range). These filters allow you to narrow down to exactly what you’re seeking. The perfect pair of kicks is hard to come by but narrowing down your data on a dashboard is not.

Journalists are trained to keep asking the same question in different forms to get the answer they need. Cascading parameters serve the same function in a data dashboard: if you continue to drill down into your data and frame it in different ways, answers begin to reveal themselves. Dashboards contain lots of data, so creating a hierarchy of information assists you in drilling down to the details you want to view. Each parameter is independent of the last so crossing over into different information is simple.  It is a powerful feature that allows you to use a picklist with defined data that is already on your dashboard.   You can even start from an old parameter and find yourself in a whole new set of information.

Cascading parameters are all about creating a better, more intuitive experience for the user. Click To Tweet

How cascading parameters free your data

Cascading parameters fit a variety of data needs as they are so customizable. Imagine, for instance, you run a shoe shop, and a potential investor is interested in knowing how many pairs of lavender shoes you sold last year.  This kind of report is not normally in your daily routine, because it’s not like you’re selling a ton of lavender shoes. However, if you have cascading parameters built into your sales & inventory dashboard, you can easily sort your data to get the information you need, nailing the presentation and probably securing that Shoe Salesperson of the Season award. Well done, indeed.

Cascading Parameters | Data filter

But if you’re in it for the glory, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

Cascading parameters can be applied not only to granular data, but to larger categories, like departments within your organization. The sales team won’t necessarily be interested in the minutia of the manufacturing data (just like the head of logistics doesn’t really care about Cameron the Sales Rep’s individual stats from last quarter.) The sales team naturally wants to see how they are doing in sales. By narrowing down the parameters by the department, then by sales person, they can see their performance over time.  You can even break it down by year, quarter, and even daily.  The ability to create different reports over time gives you insights into your organization that will open your eyes to new opportunities.  Streamlining your processes, understanding numbers, and improving your bottom line is always a plus.

Read next: The Importance of Visualizing the Sales Pipeline

Get your hands dirty: How to build cascading parameters

The cascading parameter is a powerful feature that allows you to use picklist-defined input parameters that are filtered based on the value of another parameter. So, how do cascading parameters in iDashboards work, exactly? Let’s walk through a practical example.

How to build cascading parameters

Here, I’ve set two picklists: Cascade Location and Cascade Type (e.g. shoe store locations and shoes types for sale). There are multiple types of shoes for sale at each location, but each location does sell each type of shoe.

Without cascading parameters, my picklist for Cascade Type will include all types regardless of which location is selected. To resolve this, I am going to add a parameter named Location, and then a filter using the parameter macro ${param:Location} to the Cascade Type picklist. This is called a parameterized picklist, which is indicated by a “P” icon next to the picklist name.Within the type, you can further narrow parameters down to another type which is color which is lavender. Picklists used in cascading parameters need to be added to parameters in every chart regardless of whether or not there are dashboard level parameters, which could result in performance issues depending on the data set used by the picklist.

The next step is to create a chart and configure our cascading parameters. In this example, I am adding two parameters named Location and Type, defined by the picklists we created previously. Because the picklist Type relies on the parameter Location, it must be located below the Location parameter in our list. When configured correctly, you should see an arrow in your parameter list pointing from Location to Type. This is indicating that we have successfully created a cascading parameter.

How to create a cascading parameter

Our type picklist will only display values for each respective location, so the parameters do not allow you to pick data that doesn’t exist. If your company doesn’t make cerulean shoes, for example, then you won’t have that option to pick when you’re searching for data through the cascading parameters. Only the types and colors of shoes you sell will be available for reporting. If you add a parameter that cannot be found earlier in the list of cascading parameters, you’ll see a red X next to the parameter.

How to create a cascading parameter

Now that everything’s in order, the Type picklist will only display values for the respective locations, ensuring that the user cannot select a combination of parameters that will result in no data found for the chart. The following screenshots demonstrates this by showing different Type values based on the Location selection.

 

What is great about adding cascading parameters to your report is the information you’ll discover that you didn’t know existed. Keep your company’s objectives in mind as you build these elements, drill downs and charts into your dashboard. Remember, the information from the parameter does not come out from thin air; it must exist earlier in the picklist and as a part of the same cascade you’re building. You can also create cascades within cascades, but remember that each parameterized picklist must be using a parameter that is both part of the same cascade, and be located earlier in the parameter list.

If you’re having issues creating cascading parameters within your dashboard, you may need to upgrade to the lastest version of iDashboards. You can also find complete documentation of the cascading parameters feature in the v9.1 iDashboards User’s Manual on Chapter 19.14 “Using Cascading Input Parameters” (page 374).

Filter data selections

Like fashion, there is always something new and stylish in your data that will rock your socks.  Impress your client or your boss with stats they’ll think took you hours to compile. Let your imagination run wild with cascading parameters and its possibilities. You can even save the searches for the future. Who knows, the next big thing for your company could come from a little bit of imagination, a few clicks, and your handy dashboard.

Want more tips, tricks and insights from the iDashboards team? Visit our Learn Portal for tons of great information!

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Marisa Pierron Enterprise Account Representative @iDashboards

Marisa Pierron works with clients to create strategic dashboard implementation plans in companies across the United States. She is a lover of travel and photography, and is always planning a new trip.

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