What is...shiny?

R’s Shiny package is a tool for creating web apps. It’s highly versatile and used to build everything from simple KPI dashboards, to complex data modelling tools, to beautiful, dynamic client reports.

data dashboard R

Why is it good?

You can go from rough sketch to dynamic, interactive prototype in hours. But you can also craft highly functional, infinitely customisable user interfaces.

Because it is part of the R ecosystem, it’s easy to run data processing and modelling tasks behind the scenes. And it’s free!

Why not just use Tableau or PowerBI?

If you want to stay away from the world of code and have the budget, Tableau or any of their many competitors might be the right choice for you. But these tools have their limitations.

They are designed to be highly general purpose, which often means they’re not quite able to produce exactly what you want. You inevitably hit the edge of what is possible in the world of ‘drag-and-drop’.

While it is easy to connect to databases from these tools, often what you want to visualise in your app isn’t raw data. And Tableau et al are emphatically not good tools for data processing or data analysis. For these tasks you have to turn to R or python, and if you’re in those environments already, why not use their web frameworks to build your user interface?

Check out our recent blog post on 6 Reasons To Make The Leap From Excel To R

How secure is it?

It is straightforward to host your apps on cloud services, such as Google Cloud, AWS or Azure. It is also relatively painless to add password protection and restrict access to designated users.

What are the challenges?

The major hurdle is finding people who not only know R, but who can develop well produced, well documented packaged applications. There is undoubtedly a steep initial learning curve for R more generally, and shiny has its own idiosyncrasies. To produce client or customer facing applications will probably involve also knowing some Javascript.

While many organisations use Shiny to build client / customer ready applications, a very common alternative approach is to use shiny in the proof of concept stage, and then hand this over to web developers and designers to build the final product.

DS Analytics are a data science consulting company. We provide clients with support, mentoring and training. We help companies embed data science capabilities within their organisations. We provide R support and training, as well as training in other tools and techniques in data science.


Get in touch to find out more!