Shari would like to thank Frank Lin for his contribution to this month's column.

Can you imagine driving a car without a dashboard? The dashboard provides critical information such as the car's speed and fuel level. It can also indicate problems and even give you directions to your destination (if you have a global positioning system). Although you could drive a car without a dashboard, doing so would increase your likelihood of getting a ticket, breaking down or running out of gas.

In a similar way, integrated dashboards help a company gauge its health and performance. Integrated dashboards provide a simple, cohesive interface that incorporates a comprehensive view of key indicators throughout the company. With such a tool, executives and employees are jointly more likely to recognize potential problem areas or opportunities so that they can proactively take appropriate action.

This column illustrates how you can use 360-degree insight to create integrated dashboards that leverage financial, customer, supply chain and human resource capabilities. Further, it describes the needs, processes and pitfalls of creating these dashboards.

Business Imperatives

With the increasing pace and complexity of business, companies can no longer afford to make intuitive or gut-feel decisions. These qualitative judgments may lead to lost time, money and effort in the pursuit of incorrect goals. Such mistakes may result in missed opportunities, stagnant products and even terminated employment.

Instead, companies should arrange timely information in the right format at the appropriate level of detail for a wide audience. Such a solution can enable fact-based analysis that supports both strategic and tactical decisions. The following business imperatives drive the need for quantitative decision-making processes through an integrated dashboard:

  • Increasing volumes of data. Companies must organize the voluminous data from both internal and external sources into a simple interface that allows efficient access and usage.
  • Increasing speed and complexity of business. To support savvy customers and successfully conduct business, companies must quickly react and accurately predict market shifts and demands.
  • Increasing competition. With competitors nipping at their heels, companies must search for every advantage. Data can provide that necessary competitive edge.
  • Increasing accountability, liability and regulation. Companies must accurately and efficiently report results and events or risk fines/penalties.

Functional Capabilities

In designing and developing integrated dashboards, companies must make many decisions that will determine the actual capabilities and benefits. The three major decisions that define an integrated dashboard are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Three Major Decisions that Define an Integrated Dashboard

Challenges to Consider

Several key challenges complicate the tasks of designing and developing integrated dashboards:

  • Conflicting metric definitions from user groups.
  • Unique metrics and groupings needed by user groups.
  • Different knowledge and experience levels among users.
  • Data quality problems or limitations in source systems.
  • Lack of properly established data ownership, data governance and data quality control processes.

In order to address these challenges, companies should start by clearly defining a manageable set of requirements. These requirements should act as the guiding principles that define the overall dashboard functionality and interface. Changes and refinement can be handled through future iterations of the dashboard.
Integrated dashboards require a significant investment of time and effort across the company. However, correct implementation will yield significant benefits that justify both the costs and effort. Integrated dashboards represent an ideal tool to unlock the potential benefits of data and to provide true 360-degree insight across a company.

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