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Cutting Information Clutter
Using a Targeted Dashboard Information Mix

by Richard Blahunka, Product Manager , CBIPFriday, January 25, 2008

Dashboards are revolutionizing the delivery of meaningful and actionable content to targeted information consumers. The amount of information that is available within an organization that can be delivered to information consumers is immense and potentially overwhelming. The type of information delivered via dashboards will vary considerably depending upon who is the targeted information consumer. So how do you cut through the information clutter to identify the essence of what each individual information consumer needs? In other words, who needs what and when and for what function?

Let’s take a step back and take a look at the challenge of targeting specific types of information to specific individuals with specific functional needs. The fundamental purpose of business information is to answer compelling business questions. The types of business questions asked throughout the enterprise vary widely based on department, job function, and position within the organization. Nonetheless, these wide-ranging business questions can be easily grouped into four predominant categories: Current-sight, Hindsight, Insight, and Foresight, as shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Four Predominant Information Categories

Dashboard Information Mix

Each unique information dashboard is typically a mixture of these four categories. Not surprisingly, most dashboards are not equally balanced with all four; rather, dashboards tend to be heavily weighted toward just one or two of these information types.  

The reason for this imbalance may be by design or by happenstance. For example, some dashboards heavily weighted toward Hindsight may be so because the business questions are predominantly oriented toward “what has happened?” In this example, existing dashboard content may be satisfactory to meet current business needs. On the other hand, dashboards heavily weighted toward Hindsight may be so by happenstance because the established information delivery technology and architecture does not effectively produce and support Insight, Current-sight or Foresight information. Thus Hindsight is the only type of information available via dashboards. In this example, a serious gap may exist between existing dashboard content and current business needs.  

So the question begs for any organization, "Exactly what information does my organization need?" That is to say, what is the proper mix of Hindsight, Insight, Foresight and Current-sight information needed to effectively answer the organization’s business questions?

Strategy Alignment and Appropriate Information Mix

It is critically important to keep information delivery synchronized with an organization’s dynamic business information needs. This is accomplished by aligning information delivery strategy with business strategy. In every organization it is likely there are many Hind-sight, In-sight, Fore-sight and Current-sight business questions being asked; however, the organization’s information delivery architecture and infrastructure may not readily support delivery of dashboard content in all four categories. For example, delivering complex predictive analytics requires different technologies and expertise than does delivering relatively straightforward historical reporting to dashboards. Therefore, the organization may not necessarily have the ability to deliver Foresight content to dashboards without further investment.

An organization’s information mix groups data into each of the four categories. The key to optimizing the deployment of dashboard information is to use the enterprise’s information mix as a gauge for improving the ability to better align and synchronize the delivery of information to answer important business questions quickly and meaningfully. Information gaps may exist where business questions are not adequately answered. In such cases, there are opportunities to improve dashboard information delivery to more closely align with specific business needs throughout the enterprise.

Furthermore, different job functions and positions within the organization demand different mixes of information to answer pertinent business questions. For example, operational managers may be more interested in a heavy Current-sight mix, mid-level functional executives may favor a heavy In-sight mix, and senior executives may favor a heavy Fore-sight mix. A differentiated dashboard mix by job function is shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Functional Mix of Dashboard Information

Understanding Your Organization’s Information Mix

The first step is to gain an understanding of the business questions being asked by key individuals throughout the organization. Create an inventory of these questions and clarify the meanings and definitions of the business terms to improve the consistency of all information dashboards.

The next step is to organize these questions into the appropriate categories which will typically be Hindsight, Insight, Foresight and Current-sight. However, keep an open mind as you may discover that yet another unique category may exist in your organization besides those four. Or you may discover that a hybrid category is most appropriate, such as combining Hindsight and Current-sight into a single group. Use whatever grouping categories work best in your organization.

Once there’s an understanding about the business questions being asked and they are grouped into categories, the next step is to ensure that information delivery is consistent. Ensure that the information delivery architecture and infrastructure will allow the dashboards to be populated with the best information available in a complete and timely manner for each business question being asked. Again, the role of dashboards is to deliver meaningful and actionable content to those who need it.     

Maintaining the proper mix of dashboard information throughout an organization is essential for keeping information delivery focused and tightly coupled to the dynamic needs of the business community. Providing an appropriately balanced dashboard information mix for all levels and functions helps align information delivery strategy with overall business strategy by identifying dashboard content gaps and determining focused gap-closure opportunities.

Mapping Targeted Information Mix to Actual Dashboard On-Screen Real Estate

Deploying dashboards throughout an organization should focus on the business needs of the information consumers -- the more individual the focus, the more unique and effective each dashboard will be. Naturally, the degree of each dashboard’s uniqueness will be dependent on the technology investment and resources available for dashboard deployment. Targeted dashboards may be designed and deployed broadly for large groups, more focused for mid-size departments, tightly focused for small teams, or even specialized for individual information consumers.

Regardless of the size of the targeted group of information consumers, each targeted dashboard should allocate an appropriate amount of screen real estate to each of the four information mix categories. For example, all things being equal, each of the information mix categories would be allocated 25 percent of the dashboard on-screen real estate as depicted in Figure 3.


Figure 3 – Balanced On-Screen Information Mix

 In actual practice, the proportional mix of the on-screen real estate should be relative to the proportional information mix for each targeted business information consumer. Create a real estate map of each dashboard that corresponds to the proportionate mix for that targeted information consumer.

For example, based on the information mix of the organization, senior executives may have a dashboard allocated more toward Hindsight and Foresight (see Figure 4), while business analysts would look more toward heavy Insight on-screen real estate (see Figure 5).


Figure 4 – Proportioned On-Screen Information Mix for Senior Executives


Figure 5 – Proportioned On-Screen Information Mix for Business Analysts

Oversight and Governance

It is important to understand that business needs and requirements are dynamic and reflect the changing business environment. It is equally important to understand that the information mix for information consumers is also dynamic and changing. The delivery of information via dashboards must continually adjust and re-align with the needs of the business. Therefore, the allocation of on-screen real estate to Hindsight, Insight, Foresight, and Current-sight must be constantly assessed and adjusted to match consumers’ current needs.

A good idea is to establish oversight and governance teams and processes involving both business and technical people to keep the lines of communication open and active. Dynamic business needs should be formally and continuously reviewed to identify dashboard gaps and overlaps, as well as prioritize enhancement requests for updated dashboard content. While at the same time, information delivery capability should be assessed and updated to ensure the ability to meet the needs of the business; technology investments should be driven by the evolving needs of information consumers. Input and feedback from the oversight and governance teams should be incorporated into the overall dashboard implementation plan.

Summary

Each information consumer has business information needs that translate into a unique information mix of Hindsight, Insight, Foresight, and Current-sight. The mix of information delivered via dashboards to information consumers must reflect the appropriate balance of these to answer current business questions.

It is vital to understand and align information-delivery strategy with business strategy to be able to respond appropriately to the information delivery needs of information consumers. Individual dashboards will have diverse mixes of information depending on the targeted audience. Dashboard information mixes will change over time to reflect changes in the business environment, so it is critical to keep alignment with business needs and plan for constant change.

About the Author

Richard Blahunka is a Product Manager at Lockheed Martin based in New Orleans working on BI applications with the United States Navy.  He has over twenty years of business analytics experience predominantly in Fortune 500 companies within the military, utility, airline, telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, and education industries.

Richard can be reached at richard.a.blahunka@lmco.com or richard.blahunka.ctr@navy.mil .

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