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In The Corner
Ahoy Matey, You've Been Boarded!

by Giorgio Grosso, Business Author, Dashboard InsightSaturday, August 25, 2007

Remember those wonderful pirate stories where the strong, swash-buckling hero fearlessly saved the day? He went about the admirable business of saving poor weakened souls from annihilation at the hands of evil pirates. He did it with style and purpose and nothing could stand in his way as he sailed under the flag of honor, the navy banner of truth and justice on the high seas. Oh those heroes paid a price for their beliefs, and were often beaten and wounded in the pursuit of all things right, and true. Unscrupulous pirates would fire upon their valiant ships, and declared “You’ve been boarded matey, time to walk the plank!”.

Skull and crossbones

Who could forget Long John Silver and his band of drooling blood-thirsty miscreants, those meritless mutineers against a small crew of good men and their venerable captain? In the end, we still managed to forgive old Long John for his indiscretions and let him fade into the distance, a free man. After all what’s a poor pirate to do? Audiences today thrill at the sight of old Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates Of The Caribbean. Captain Jack is savvy and cunning; he can neither be killed nor captured by beasts, ghosts or men, and retains the dubious right to exclaim with impunity “Take what you can, give nothing back!”

Nice thoughts indeed, but at the end of the day we understand these things to be fantastic creations of fiction. Heroes and friends in a world of perfection, daring escapes, and adventures. To my point, it is unfortunately with the same sort of child-like faith that many executives tend to believe that their adaptive use of digital dashboarding technology all but guarantees their organization’s ultimate success. In light of this fact, I would like to be the first to coin the phrase “You’ve been (dash)boarded!” to describe the effective implementation of a dashboard into one’s organization. It is my hope that at some point in the near future the popular business lingo of the day will allow us to ask senior executives if their organization has been “boarded”, and have them respond to us knowing exactly what was asked. One could go further to surmise that if an organization has not been “boarded” then it is destined to “walk the plank” to destruction. Yes, this whole pirate thing is quickly becoming natural, isn’t it?

Can the mere implementation of a dashboard in fact guarantee success and prosperity? Organizations that have been metaphorically “boarded” are perceived to have a sizable advantage over those struggling to be boarded. As with all matters of fiction, including the notion that implementing a dashboard somehow guarantees success, the truth is often very different than what’s being said on deck. While it is true that a well designed, properly used, digital dashboard can benefit an organization, and that those who in possession of such dashboards are succeeding like never before, one must be ever mindful of the fact that there can be no guarantees of success.

Okay, I realize we all knew this deep down inside: business gives no guarantees and promises you nothing. Talk is cheap and excuses cost nothing. We know that business isn’t fair, it’s just business. Yet a significant number of people are putting their faith and their organization’s economic future into the hands of this BI technology to the exclusion of other safeguards, checks, and balances. While there is no denying the benefits that good dashboards impart, one must be able to distinguish the good dashboards from those that are “all frosting and no cake”. Dashboards are an artful expression of technology, they can be an exquisite demonstration of engineering and insightful design, but nevertheless they are a business tool, and one that must work.

The fervent belief that even ineffective dashboards guarantee success could be considered a clear-cut case of “The rising tide that floats all boats”, but one must be ever vigilant of being misled by those who would pretend to know the way to true dashboard design success. Reputable experienced dashboarding consultants are few and far between because it takes a very special kind of developer to succeed in this domain. These dashboard consultants, like those heroes of old, must wrestle with dangerous issues that plague all businesses today. They must valiantly fight against BI misconceptions and misinformation, while trying to harness or improve poor data assets to unearth the truths that lie there in wait.

That truth is a sound set of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). KPIs that show an enterprise’s managers what is happening in their business today, and tomorrow. These BI heroes will suffer as they are weathered by the tide of misinformation and false promises made by those pretenders to the throne who persistently mislead. In the end, our heroes prevail and triumph with dashboard designs that look good and work flawlessly as promised. Revealed, the “misleaders”, those who try to sell the idea that plain, ugly, colorless dashboards are good for business, will scatter and disappear. Victorious, our hero can now proclaim “You’ve been boarded!” and all will be well as the wind catches the sails of their organization, and begins to carry them towards their goals and objectives.

There is still no guarantee, but at least now one can take safe harbor in the fact that there is clear direction, and the hope that this new dashboard will help managers plan the success of the entire organization. Can you feel the warming sun on your face, and smell that ocean breeze as the spray of the tide carries you forward towards your goals? Fade to music, cue end credits.

Copyright 2008 - Dashboard Insight - All rights reserved.

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