Barnaby would like to thank Mark Lorence of Palladium Group for his contributions to this article.
The left-field wall at Fenway Park, affectionately known as the "Green Monster," is one of the most famous scoreboards in baseball. The wall has played a significant role in the history of the Boston Red Sox. The size of the wall has turned many potential home-run balls into long singles. Overall, the Green Monster enhances the experience of watching a game at Fenway. But when viewed as a performance management tool, the 37-foot wall comes up a bit short. Basic information about the game is displayed, including the inning-by-inning score and traditional key performance indicators like the balls and strikes for the current batter as well as runs, hits and errors. Additional information, including scores of other games, is useful but not entirely relevant to the current game in progress.
This mix of information is analogous to the information displayed on online dashboard applications developed years ago. These first-generation dashboards often replicated the spreadsheet look and feel of the paper reports they replaced - rows and columns of numbers - and added rudimentary analytical functionality such as traffic lighting of variances, drilling down to detailed values and simple line, bar or pie charts.
While certain efficiency gains were realized by consolidating and displaying key metrics on dashboard screens, the applications were limited in their ability to support operational decision-making. The majority of dashboard information tended to be lagging and financial in nature.
Today, most baseball stadiums have some type of electronic scoreboard. These large screens display additional information about the game that a manager can use to make real-time operational decisions during the game - deciding, for example, to remove a starting pitcher after a certain pitch count has been reached. The Internet has also become a factor, with elaborate Web sites allowing managers (or avid fans) to track the pitch-by-pitch progress of a game side by side with extensive graphical displays, photos and images.
Operational dashboards are undergoing the same type of transformation, fueled not only by the advances in dashboard technology but also by the realization that - in order to be truly operational, dashboards must display more than simply rows and columns of lagging financial metrics. I have identified four key differentiators that position these next-generation dashboards as more effective management tools in delivering high-impact results.
Develop the ability to use the dashboard to both report on and manage processes that are important to the overall strategy of the organization, business unit or individual function, with an emphasis on outputs and results. By integrating the operational dashboard with a strategic management system, such as the balanced scorecard, a link can be established between the high-level strategic measures and the underlying operational drivers that support the strategic objective.
For example, an energy company has both a retail and a wholesale business unit. Within the wholesale unit, it owns and operates several power plants across the country. One of the strategic objectives is to maximize the electricity generated by the plants, which requires the plants to be operated at peak capacity. However, the plants cannot run 24 hours per day - they require maintenance in order to prevent significant problems. This target utilization factor is displayed on the corporate scorecard, but the underlying dashboards allow managers to drill down from this summary number and view utilization data by region and by plant. Plant managers understand how their individual plant utilization contributes to the overall success of the organization.
Beyond the ability to simply drill down to underlying detail, next-generation dashboards contain a mix of financial and nonfinancial metrics as well as both leading and lagging indicators that allow operational and managerial decisions to be made quickly - rather than waiting until the end of the quarter to react.
Continuing our example, the target utilization value can be negatively impacted by unplanned maintenance. The company has developed a dashboard that tracks not only the unplanned maintenance time but displays key metrics that can lead to these outages. This allows managers to analyze not only what happened, but what may happen in the future - and take appropriate action.
Tailored to both power and casual users, next-generation dashboards are intuitive and contain prebuilt navigational paths to assist in data analysis. Designing these user interfaces requires a methodology similar to the design of a large Web site - an information architecture, a well-structured site map and a sound, consistent navigational paradigm. Software tools for data visualization are rapidly improving. It is now relatively easy to add graphical capabilities beyond simple charts and graphs. We are starting to see applications that use 3-D data visualization, heat maps and other advanced techniques.
Next-generation dashboards leverage the complete power of the new suite of performance management tools - rich user interfaces, the ability to use multiple data sources, fast performance and integration with other BI tools. With earlier dashboards, a choice was often required between numbers and text. That choice is no longer required, as the newer tools allow sourcing from multiple databases and the integration of text and numbers.
If you're considering developing a dashboard application, be sure to structure your design around these next-generation principles. The resulting performance management tool should be a grand slam.
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