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A Philosophical Blueprint for Building the Executive Dashboard

  • August 01 2002, 1:00am EDT
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It seems as though every potential client I talk to these days is interested in building an enterprise dashboard to enable their executive management team to perform business activity monitoring (BAM) on a real-time, or near real-time, basis. Gartner analyst David McCoy defines BAM as "the concept of providing real-time access to critical business performance indicators to improve the speed and effectiveness of business operations."1

An enterprise dashboard is a perfect fit for organizations that want to perform this type of monitoring. In short, a dashboard is a one-screen display that enables executives and knowledge-workers to monitor and analyze an organization's key performance indicators. It presents actionable information at a glance and up-to-date information on status and forecasts against benchmarks.

However, the concept of enterprise dashboards is relatively new; and there aren't many guidelines or best practices available for building them properly. My colleagues and I have built a few dashboards over the years ­ even when we didn't have such a trendy term for them ­ and we've come up with a set of "guiding principles" that, if followed, will result in a dashboard that delivers on the promise of BAM.

This month's column will discuss what I consider to be the philosophical principles that must be followed in building a dashboard. Next month's column will focus on the guiding principles behind the technical architecture and dissemination of organizational knowledge by the dashboard.

Following is a list of eight philosophical guiding principles that, when followed, should produce optimal dashboard solutions.

Linkage. Analyze your performance goals and tailor the dashboard display and reports to reflect and report on those goals. In essence, link the dashboard solution to the goals your organization needs to meet in order to be successful.

Benchmarking. Identify and monitor those key performance indicators (KPIs) that are comparable to those of other internal groups or external competitors. The dashboard then becomes a tool for controlling and measuring results against concrete standards.

Balance. Ensure that the dashboard includes all types of KPIs. Focusing only on financial indicators is not enough. Measurements indicating how a business deals with its customers, internal processes and suppliers are just as critical. Therefore, it is crucial that balance be achieved in the types of indicators measured.

Communication. The dashboard must enable users to share successes with each other. It also must enable management to identify new opportunities for growth and improvement. This capability makes the dashboard an inherent aid to organizational change management.

Intuitiveness. The dashboard framework must present an "easy-to-read" Web-enabled snapshot of the defined KPIs. Typical CEOs have time constraints and, at most, 90 seconds to scan new information. Thus, dashboard information should be displayed with easy-to-understand graphics similar to fuel or speedometer gauges to show performance against set metrics or benchmark against other units' performances.

Reliability. If users don't trust the system, they won't use it. Therefore, the dashboard must provide accurate, complete and precise data to users when they need it. The best way to ensure reliability is to use a sound technical architecture, which will be one focus of next month's column.

Dynamic. The dashboard must easily facilitate the decision support process by presenting actionable KPIs. The dashboard should also "come to the user" in the form of pages, e- mails, on-screen alert messages, etc., to make the user aware of significant events within the defined KPIs. Those KPIs must also be customizable and continuously updated.

Integration. The dashboard deployment must involve all levels of the organization. This involvement creates transparency in the company's internal growth by sharing one version of "the truth" with its employees. Instead of discussing individually generated reports with different versions of "the truth," knowledge-workers have access to the same set of organizational data. This empowerment of organizational knowledge- workers will be the other focus of discussion in next month's column.

Ensuring that these principles guide the development is the first step in building a successful enterprise dashboard solution. They lay the philosophical groundwork for the concrete steps of designing and building the appropriate technical architecture and building a solution that disseminates the appropriate organizational knowledge to workers. Remember, however, that these principles are intended as a guide, not as a set of commandments. Don't use these guidelines as a build-it-by-the-numbers kit; follow them in spirit and make them fit within your own organizational philosophy.

McCoy, David. "Business Activity Monitoring: The Merchant's Tale." Gartner Case Study. 26 April 2002.

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