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Elements for an Enterprise Dashboard
Creating dashboards with IMPACT

by Shadan Malik, www.idashboards.comThursday, November 15, 2007

Elements for an Enterprise Dashboard

 We have borrowed inspiration from an aircraft cockpit to build enterprise dashboards, and yet we know that the analogy has some serious limitations. So, let us establish the basic characteristics specific to an enterprise dashboard with a useful acronym-SMART. A dashboard must be SMART in that it contains the following underlying elements, which are essential for success:

S ynergetic

Must be ergonomically and visually effective for a user to synergize information about different aspects within a single screen view.

M onitor KPIs: 

Must display critical KPIs required for effective decision making for the domain to which a dashboard caters.

A ccurate: 

Information being presented must be entirely accurate in order to gain full user confidence in the dashboard. The supporting dashboard data must have been well tested and validated.

R esponsive: 

Must respond to predefined thresholds by creating user alerts in addition to the visual presentation on the dashboard (e.g., sound alarms, e-mails, pagers, blinkers) to draw immediate user attention to critical matters.

T imely: 

Must display the most current information possible for effective decision making. The information must be real-time and right-time.

This order serves the formation of the acronym and does not indicate the relative priority of these features.

An aircraft-inspired enterprise dashboard must be SMART. However, a SMART dashboard is not sufficient to ensure effective organizational management. To the envy of pilots, an enterprise dashboard must have enhanced characteristics not available even within a cockpit. An enterprise dashboard should also have some of the following advanced elements, captured in another acronym-IMPACT:

I nteractive: 

It should allow the user to drill down and get to details, root causes, and more. Imagine the dramatic benefit if a pilot could click on the fuel gauge showing low fuel to view the consumption rate graph during the past hour, only to find out that the consumption rate shot to twice the normal usage during the last 15 minutes, indicating a sudden fuel leak.

M ore data history: 

The dashboard should allow users to review the historical trend for a given KPI. For example, market share may indicate strength within the current time period but a negative trend in a year-ago comparison. A user may then click on the current share to investigate if a shrinking market share is a sudden phenomenon within the current time period or a trend for the past several time periods.

P ersonalized: 

The dashboard presentation should be specific to each user's domain of responsibility, privileges, data restrictions, and so on. For example, the sales manager for the Eastern region should be presented with metrics related to that region's performance and perhaps an aggregated view for other regions for relative comparison. Other aspects of personalization should be available as well, such as language and visual preferences for colors and background style, for better user experience.

A nalytical: 

It should allow users to perform guided analysis such as what-if analysis. The dashboard should make it effortless for a user to visually interrogate through different drill-down paths, compare, contrast, and make analytical inferences. In this way, the dashboard can facilitate better business comprehension within a set of interdependent business variables.

C ollaborative: 

The dashboard should facilitate users' ability to exchange notes regarding specific observations on their dashboards. This could also be adopted to accomplish workflow checks and process controls. A well-designed collaboration would serve as a communication platform for task management and compliance control.

T rackability: 

It should allow each user to customize the metrics he or she would like to track. Such customized tracking could then be incorporated within the default dashboard view presented to the user after login. For example, the sales managers for the Eastern and Western regions may not want to track the same issues. The Eastern region may be facing a highly competitive pressure with a low market share, whereas the Western region may have a high market share but an inventory problem leading to out-of-stock situations.

Again, this order does not indicate the relative priority of these features, but it provides another acronym to remember easily-IMPACT. Therefore, an organizational dashboard must have SMART IMPACT. 

Rules of Good Software Still Apply

Having laid the foundation for an effective organizational dashboard, it is worth noting that the dashboard software must also meet the standards of any good software, which include the following:

  • Fast response. Users should not experience an inordinate delay in retrieving their dashboards and associated reports.
  • Intuitive. End users need not be required to go through a big learning curve or mandatory training.
  • Web-based. Users should be able to access the dashboard through the Web, if they have proper access rights. The Web-based feature may also be referred to as thin client.
  • Secured. System administrators may administer software security easily to reduce and track wrongful access. The software must also provide data encryption to secure sensitive data transmission across the Web.
  • Scalable. A large number of users may access the software without crashing the system or causing it to slow down below an acceptable performance benchmark. This quality assumes a reasonable hardware and network bandwidth.
  • Industry compliant. The software should integrate with standard databases of different vendors and work with different server standards (e.g., Net, J2EE) and various operating systems (e.g., Unix, Windows, Linux).
  • Open technology. The software should not have proprietary standards that would make it difficult or impossible to extend its reach within a complex IT environment. It should work well with the prevailing protocols for information exchange, such as the XML, ODBC, JDBC, OLE DB, JMS, and Web Services. Note, open technology does not mean open source, which refers mostly to free software with open access to the source code.
  • Supportable. It should be easy to manage a large deployment within the existing IT staff with limited training on the dashboard software. In other words, the software should not be so complex that it requires long-term contract or hiring of another expert simply to support its deployment, assuming that the organization has a reasonably qualified IT staff.
  • Cost effective. The total cost of ownership should be well below the monetary benefit it provides to justify a strong return on investment (ROI). Therefore, the licensing cost, implementation cost, and support cost should be within a range that provides strong ROI and organizational benefits after deployment.


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