There is an increasing adoption of dashboards within organizations of all sizes. Once there is an organizational mandate to deploy a dashboard for a certain initiative, such as Balanced Scorecard, enterprise performance management, supply chain, customer service, and so on, three immediate issues must be examined:
- Build versus buy
- Software evaluation
- Cost factors
Build versus Buy
Unlike the 1980s and early 1990s, the popular wisdom of the current decade suggests that an organization must adhere to its core competency when it comes to software development. In other words, if a specific software tool does not address the strategic core of what an organization does, the organization is better off finding an external solution rather than building it internally. For example, an online trading or online auction company would be better advised to develop such software internally to contain the intellectual property core to its business. Similarly, if an organization offers logistic services, it is better off developing a supply chain software that is core to its business.
However, when it comes to software that offers other productivity improvements not core to the business, prevailing wisdom dictates that it is better to seek out an external vendor that offers a solution that may best meet the need. Such noncore areas may entail enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management, database management, business intelligence, regulatory compliance, and so forth.
The build versus buy decision for a dashboard initiative should be measured with the same litmus test as any other software initiative. If the dashboard solution is not at the core of an organization's business, then that organization would be better off outsourcing the solution from a dashboard software vendor.
For the most part, purchasing a dashboard software package makes more sense than building one in-house. It is hard to imagine that a dashboard solution would be the core of business for any organization other than the dashboard software vendors or those software vendors providing vertical solutions such as ERP, process control or accounting. This leads us to the next important step in due diligence: software evaluation.
A successful software evaluation requires mapping the organizational needs to the software features. The most helpful way to approach the software evaluation process is to begin by documenting all of the requirements for a proposed deployment. Once the requirements are established, it is easier to develop an organization-specific evaluation matrix. Carefully documenting requirements at the outset makes the software search process more productive and helps the team quickly eliminate software that does not meet minimum requirements.
Among the dashboard software options, there are primarily two types: (1) solution specific and (2) dashboard platform.
Solution-specific vendors specialize in dashboards that are part of the overall approach to specific solutions such as supply chain, ERP, quality control, and Balanced Scorecard. For example, if a company is looking for better visibility and management of its distribution process, a supply chain vendor may have a solution that includes an embedded dashboard interface. This solution may offer all or most of the metrics and process management requirements that are part of the organizational mandate.
However, the usual drawback of such solutions is that the dashboard offering is more rigid in terms of its extensibility. For example, the dashboard may address the supply chain area, but it may not be extended to a marketing dashboard solution, because the solution is not intended to support marketing intelligence within the organization. In cases in which the dashboard software could be extended, the cost is very high, because it requires custom changes to the software.
The advantage of solution-specific dashboard software is that it is easier and faster to deploy for the specific area. When a company has ERP and supply chain software, the dashboard solution may also have built-in integration to some of the popular software packages. This lowers the initial deployment cost and allows for the possibility of ongoing support when the ERP software goes through future upgrades.
Dashboard platform vendors offer a generic dashboard platform that may be customized to provide any type of dashboard solution. Such software offers a framework to pull data from multiple sources, manage user security and privileges, and deploy dashboard solutions based on requirements. For example, senior management may require enterprise visibility from supply chain, customer service, finance, sales, and marketing. An enterprise dashboard platform can be customized to achieve such deployments.
The drawback of a flexible dashboard platform is that greater initial effort is required to deliver a specific solution. The dashboard platform may also require additional integration work to be able to pull information from existing ERP and/or financial systems deployed within the organization.
The advantage of the dashboard platform is additional flexibility and the option of extending the software into different areas of application that may not be part of the immediate mandate. This may also lead to better standardization across the organization. If a solution-specific approach were taken, each solution area may have separate software vendors, leading to greater software heterogeneity, a condition that is often discouraged by enterprise IT management.
To better compete with solution-specific space, dashboard platform vendors are also offering a growing number of out-of-the-box solutions to reduce the initial deployment cost. Furthermore, some of them may be offering integration modules that alleviate the task of integrating with some of the popular ERP, supply chain, financial, or customer relationship management packages. A happy combination of specific solution offerings within a flexible dashboard platform may be the winning criteria for most dashboard deployments.