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Dashboards for IT System Monitoring
Architecture of a Lightweight Real Time System

by Allen Goodwin, System Analyst - Application Managed Services, www.unum.comTuesday, February 10, 2009

Introduction

This article describes a dashboard system displaying near real time monitoring data for critical IT applications at Unum, number 251 on the Fortune 500 and the world’s largest provider of disability insurance. The dashboards evolved over several months as I developed a series of “one-off” dashboards at Unum for systems involving imaging and document workflow. I looked at many dashboards on the web and got ideas. A concept finally emerged for the kinds of dashboards needed by Unum’s Application Managed Services (AMS) and the business entities it serves within the enterprise. This article describes an extremely simple and lightweight dashboard system that has produced a clear return on investment (ROI) for Unum (see sample image below).

UNUM Navilink Fax Dashboard
Click on image for full size version

Each image metaphor represents a key performance indicator (KPI) for a critical step in document processing. As an example, a cylinder filled ten percent might represent the number of inbound faxes queued for barcode striping, imaging, delivery, and archival. The “fluid level” represents the measured volume of documents for the preceding sixty seconds. The color coding represents categories of performance based on service level agreements (SLAs) negotiated between IT and business areas within the enterprise.

These dashboards are updated at intervals ranging from a few seconds to fifteen minutes. They target two internal groups at Unum: IT professionals responsible for developing and supporting imaging applications and business managers whose groups depend on the document imaging infrastructure. Both groups view the dashboards via wall mounted displays and personal computers viewing SharePoint web pages with Internet Explorer.

UNUM Fax monitoring dashboard
Click on image for full size version

Minimalist Approach

I envisioned an extremely lightweight dashboard system, requiring no licensing or service contracts and an absolute minimum of administration. It had to be robust, yet easily extensible. It had to be versatile enough to add future functionality not yet contemplated. I also wanted dashboards capable of having compelling visual displays. The images I view in many dashboards appear too crowded and busy to me and too weak on aesthetics. As a former university professor, I also value imagery that simplifies the complex and makes abstract concepts intuitive and concrete. Finally I envisioned a GUI application that a technician could use to create, deploy, and update dashboards.

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