Dashboards & Dashboarding

Dashboards–sometimes called IT dashboards or corporate dashboards–are single screens in which various critical pieces of information are placed in the form of panels. Like dashboards in a car, they allow the end-user to have a unified view of the data and information that matters to “drive” the business forward.

If a dashboard is useful, a Web-based dashboard is even more so. Blending the power of a desktop application with the flexibility and the navigability of the Web, its panels can be as diverse as:

  • Business metrics such as charts and graphs
  • Key performance indicators or KPIs
  • GIS maps
  • Web sites, news, RSS feeds, real-time stock or currency quotes
  • Personal reminders
  • In short, most anything that can be displayed on the Web

Advantages of Dashboards

Dashboards are valuable because they transform business data into critical information that jumps out to the user, who can then make sense and act on it immediately.

  • Fast and effective decision-making – Gives executives, managers and analysts convenient immediate access to key performance metrics, which help them monitor performance and processes for a greater understanding of the business.
  • On demand, accurate and relevant information in line with business priorities – Dashboards clearly communicate business objectives throughout the organization and allow users to see progress towards those goals. This keeps everyone focused and informed. With a personalized layout, users only see the information that is most important to them, and they can filter out information that is not relevant.
  • Focused identification of problems, inefficiencies or negative trends for immediate action and improved performance Users can immediately see any problems and drill down on charts and links to explore detailed information and analyze data in real time, to determine root causes and to correct negative trends.

Best Practices Tips

As the “new face of BI,” a dashboard is an attractive feature for prospective buyers of business intelligence. Some go as far as almost thinking that a corporate dashboard has magical properties. It’s like a business talisman: just get it and in no time your decision-making will become more effective and your company more competitive. This is, of course, not the case. To be effective, dashboards need to be implemented smartly and with a view towards the company’s strategy.
Let’s look at some best-practice tips to ensure you get the most out of your dashboard investment.

Do #1: Let the Dashboard Be Business-driven and Focused

Ask yourself: what competitive goals are you trying to achieve through this tool? What specific processes are you trying to make more efficient? What critical information are you trying to make more readily available and why? Be ruthlessly specific. The more surgically you zero in on precise tactics, the better your chance to achieve your strategy.

Example: you want the inventory of the top-10 SKUs to always remain optimal, so that you’re not out of goods while never getting overstocked. You set up a dashboard that shows this information in intuitive eyeful–in graphic form and of course in real time.

Don’t #1:

Don’t make the dashboard into a slightly less unprofessional version of solitaire. Too much freedom and too little focus, and your users will spend time on it for entertainment with your BI investment going to waste.

Do #2: Let the KPI Be Your Friend

What’s a KPI? It’s a key performance indicator–a color-coded dot or gauge that “indicates” if your “key” items are “performing” well or if they need corrective action. Set a threshold (e.g. minimum month-to-date sales) for the critical items; when you’re on the good side of the threshold, the KPI shows you a green dot–all OK. When you’re on the wrong side of the threshold, the KPI turns red–time to take action.Example: you want to have an optimal in-stock level of your top 10 SKUs. Have 10 KPIs that alert you without even having to read numbers. Green: all is going well. Red: either too much or too little inventory.

Don’t #2:

Don’t use too many KPIs. The “K” stands for “Key.” Prioritize and use KPIs only for your key items, otherwise your dashboard will become too cluttered and important information will fail to jump out to your users.

Do #3: Make Your Dashboard Actionable

The thermostat in your car reads 38 degrees. Does knowing that make you any warmer? Not unless you can act on the temperature-control lever. Without being able to act on what you see, a dashboard is as useful as than the morning paper–it informs you but it does not give you a chance to do something about what you read. Give yourself the power to see the information, understand what it means to your goals and act on it without leaving the application.Example: one of your inventory-level KPIs is red. Time to reorder. Instead of leaving the application, looking up the vendor, entering another program and placing the order, you just click on the “reorder” button right from your dashboard.

Don’t #3:

As you implement BI, don’t foster a culture of “knowers.” Foster one of “doers.” Remember that it’s actions that impact the bottom line, and that knowledge is only the prerequisite–albeit a critical prerequisite.

Do #4: It’s a Web, Web World, Although…

With the Web taking over the world of BI, it’s become chic to malign desktop applications. Yes, having dashboards on the Web is almost essential today, making it easier to access them, share them and work on them from virtually anywhere. However, the best Web-based dashboard software still retains the features of a desktop application–flexible, easy to use, powerful, interactive, with that “dedicated” feel to them.

Example: you should be able to move your panels around without refreshing the screen (thanks to technologies like AJAX), plus drill down, drill through and have persuasive and impactful features like Flash-powered charts and graphs.

Don’t #4:

Don’t set up a Web-based dashboard that looks and feels like an Internet site from 10 years ago–a static, read-only tool whose usefulness is greatly watered down.

Do #5: Make Dashboard Software Available to Everyone

Us BI industry insiders may not realize it, but it’s still out there. That culture where reporting and analysis is the domain of a few techies or upper management. For it to be useful, dashboard software should be available to every decision-maker in your company. And if you are smart about the way you manage your people, most your employees should be treated as decision makers.

Example: there’s no reason why your warehouse managers, your HR personnel, all your sales-force and your finance department (to name but a few), should not have access to dashboards making their jobs more efficient.

Don’t #5:

Don’t end up paying for tens of user’s licenses, or worse yet, tens of user’s licenses that end up unused because of failed adoption. Shop for a vendor that allows you to deploy dashboards to unlimited users–e.g. through a server-based licensing model.

In Summary

In the end, remember that the dashboard is just a tool. The easier it is to use, and the more directly it makes your employers’ life easier, the more it will be adopted. And the more it is adopted, the more positively it will impact your business.

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