When looking at the BI landscape and available solutions, dashboards give the biggest bang for their buck. After all, with high levels of interactivity, strong data visualizations, and general capabilities that provide the quickest way to monitor performance and manage what is happening within the organization, it stands to reason that dashboard use would be gaining in popularity. Despite the positive aspects of making BI and analytics easier to access and to interact with, the reality is that effective dashboards don’t design themselves. Simply implementing a dashboard and monitoring metrics does not mean that decision makers will benefit from their use. Businesses require an effective action plan that ties into the organization’s vision in order to drive long-term success.
This article looks at the general steps an organization should consider when developing their first dashboard or looking to enhance their current metrics initiative. The steps discussed define the overall scope of the project to help ensure success, looking at both short-term and long-term usage, and general data access. This article also looks at dashboard interactivity and designing appropriate metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs).
1. Dashboard Scope
Every IT project requires a scope to keep things on track and to make sure that the project is managed correctly. After all, if scope creep occurs then a potentially successful dashboard may turn into a failed project. For organizations to limit the chance of this happening, it is important to identify the goal of the project in advance and to make sure that stakeholders are involved in developing the general scope of the project to ensure buy-in. This involves defining the business challenge being faced, the areas within the organization it affects, and what falls outside of these parameters.
Every organization will have multiple business issues they are facing at any given time. Ideally, sticking to one main goal will keep metrics identification and KPI development easier – both in terms of development and effectiveness. The goal as time goes on is to expand dashboard use, but long-term dashboard goals fall outside of the immediate project scope. Additionally, although an organization-wide dashboard project or metrics development goal might be a nice to have, in many instances it pays to start off with a specific goal that might not immediately touch the whole organization. Outside of management visibility and strategic KPIs, dashboard development will not reflect the metrics required within all business units across the organization. Ultimately, the best way to start is by developing an effective solution that addresses the business challenges that fall within the general scope and also takes into account future requirements.
2. Short-Term and Long-Term Vision
Most dashboard initiatives start with an immediate need such as sales performance sliding, information being almost impossible to access in a centralized manner, no insight into performance, etc. The immediacy of a business pain helps create the desire to develop a solution to meet the business challenges of today. In some cases, however, this short-term immediacy of the business need takes focus away from longer-term corporate goals. Although successful dashboard use requires instantaneous visibility into metrics and general performance, not all dashboards are created equal.
Each available solution has its differentiations in terms of delivery and features. Organizations should take into account what long-term requirements are needed within the company. For instance, some businesses want to have their IT departments make required customizations, while others prefer to deliver a self-service model to their employees. The option chosen will change how the solution is used and how it is maintained over time. With companies that want centralized control, customizations may take longer in comparison with solutions that enable end users high levels of interactivity.
3. Data Access
Outside of IT, many business units do not understand the value of data and its relationship to metrics management. Obviously, everyone understands that information collection drives reporting and analysis. But it is not always easy to look at data as a key enabler to successful dashboards. The adage “dirty data in, dirty data out” applies equally to all kinds of analytics irrespective of the delivery model. Consequently, to develop a successful dashboard solution good, clean, valid data is required.
The maintenance of data quality and validity as well as data preparation represents a large portion of what it takes to develop a successful dashboard. Considerations such as solution integration with internal data sources, amounts of data captured, the number of data sources, and additional data integration processes are required when looking at both the dashboard solution and the current infrastructure that exists within the organization. For example, certain companies use a MS SQL Server environment, while others apply different solutions (i.e. Linux, etc.). Installation and integration requirements may differ depending on what is already in-house. Although workarounds exist, in reality, efforts will differ. Even though this means that limitations might exist, identifying the data requirements and looking at general IT requirements may lessen complications later on in relation to implementation and maintenance.
4. Dashboard Use and Interactivity
As mentioned above, different dashboards exist in relation to interactivity. End user expertise, company role, and technical savvy all lead to varying requirements in relation to interactivity. End users will want to interact with dashboards in a way that matches their comfort with technology, analysis, and job function. Some people might need to change the metrics they are looking at, and others may want to simply consume dashboards developed for their use. Effective dashboards take these needs into account and provide the appropriate access for both types of users.
5. Metrics and KPI design
The development of metrics and KPIs can make or break dashboard use. To make dashboards valuable to end users they need to monitor performance effectively. A sales dashboard might not only take into account sales by product and region, but also identify opportunities, current pipeline, etc. The development of metrics should match these essential features.
Taking this one step further is what KPIs are designed to do. Metrics may monitor the day-to-day operations, but it is KPIs that take a dashboard to the next step. For instance, looking at sales pipelines provide value in and of themselves, but to identify overall performance, targets need to be set and defined metrics need to tie into a broader performance indicator in order to manage both micro and macro aspects of business performance.
Many disparate tasks are required to implement a successful dashboard project, and the five steps listed above present an overview of what some of those tasks are. By developing a specific scope with short and long-term goals and by evaluating solutions based on interactivity and data access, organizations will be better equipped to select a solution that best matches their business and IT requirements.
About the Author
Lyndsay Wise is an industry analyst for business intelligence. For over seven years, she has assisted clients in business systems analysis, software selection and implementation of enterprise applications. Lyndsay is the channel expert for BI for the Mid-Market at B-eye-Network and conducts research of leading technologies, products and vendors in business intelligence, marketing performance management, master data management, and unstructured data. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. And please visit Lyndsay's blog at myblog.wiseanalytics.com.
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