Part 1: Critical Success Factors to Accomplish Your Goals

I'm glad to see the tremendous interest throughout the business community in learning about and building enterprise performance dashboards (EPDs) to provide executives with timely insight into performance issues and information about their solutions. However, there's a good deal of confusion and misinformation in the marketplace regarding which methodology is best suited to building an EPD end to end. Over the next several columns, I'm going to address that situation by providing a general outline of the methodology BearingPoint has used over the past several years to build EPDs for some of the world's leading companies.

As with any IT project, there are certain events, processes or methods that will make or break the success of the project. Addressing them effectively will go a long way in ensuring that the outcome of the project is as expected ­ successful. This column will discuss these critical success factors.

Factor One:
ROI, Methodology and Management

Whatever methodology you use to develop your EPD, it must be iterative and provide incremental returns on investment (ROI). Iterative development methodologies allow both developers and the user community to build, test, discover mistakes, learn from the discoveries, realize benefits and build again and again until the application meets the requirements it needs to. It goes without saying that along with an iterative methodology, there must be some type of issue tracking and resolution process so that problems can be tracked and solved efficiently.

Factor Two: Modeling

The data models used to build the EPD database must be accurate. That sounds patently obvious; however, in this case, accurate means "focused on the problem at hand," with no extraneous entities, attributes, keys or indexes. It also means that the models must be supported by a data mart –­ either a virtual view into an enterprise data warehouse or a physical data mart. The model must support fast retrieval, but provide "drill down" capability to get to the root of a problem when one is discovered.

Factor Three:
Technical Architecture Issues

The first issue here is compatibility of the BI software you use to build your EPD. It must be compatible with other software in the organization so that there are no conflicts that will hang up the system as it tries to retrieve data and slice and dice the data it has. The second issue is the server environment for the EPD. Load balancing and redundancy of servers should be a top priority for the technical team. The EPD must have the correct server environment to perform at peak levels. Skimping on the architecture will cause poor performance, and executives have little tolerance for slow response. They will lose interest, and you will lose funding.

Factor Four: Requirements

Obviously, before you build an EPD, you must have a complete set of requirements for the system. The requirements must focus on delivering the key performance indicators (KPIs) that, when improved, will yield the highest ROI. In short, good requirements simply prioritize and decompose the KPIs back to their sources, rules, periodicities, thresholds and owners.

Factor Five:
Team Makeup

Whatever the makeup of the team, the project manager should ensure that individual team members are mentored in the specific BI methodology being used so that cross training takes place and each member of the team understands the goals of the project. It's also critical that the team be supplemented by members with deeper skill sets in core areas such as knowledge of the business and best-practice business metrics for the industry –­ as well as data modeling, data management and dashboard design. This will ensure that the EPD has the expert input needed to meet the business community's expectations.

Factor Six:
Data Quality

Garbage in equals garbage out. It's absolutely crucial that before you build, all data being gathered from operational systems for use in the EPD be validated as accurate, correct and clean. You can build the best EPD in the world; but if you put dirty data into it, the system will not do its job properly. That's an unaffordable –­ and avoidable –­ waste of time and effort. My most recent EPD projects have even included data quality as one of the metrics in the dashboard itself.

Factor Seven:
Dashboard Design

Research and use industry best practices when building the EPD. Create a standard look and feel for dashboard design and development, and use it throughout the life of the project and for any other EPDs you may build for other business units or subsidiaries. All dashboards should be customizable for the department and each executive's level and specialty.

Factor Eight:
Expectations Management

Unfortunately, many users have a low expectation that projects will be delivered on time and will meet their expectations. Or worse, users expect applications to be delivered almost instantly and do everything for them "automagically." You can prevent this by involving the user community in the development life cycle from the beginning. That way, they'll know what's coming, and they can provide valuable input as to whether or not the system is meeting their expectations.

Of course, there's no magic spell to ensure the success of any IT project. The road is very often bumpy and fraught with unseen pitfalls. There will always be issues that seem insurmountable. However, if you ensure that the critical success factors I've discussed in this column are met, you'll go a long way toward ensuring that issues are more easily resolved, user community expectations are met and that the project stays on the right track.

All information provided is of a general nature and is not intended to address the circumstances of any particular individual or entity. Although we endeavor to provide accurate and timely information, there can be no guarantee that such information is accurate as of the date it is received or that it will continue to be accurate in the future. No one should act upon such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation. The views and opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of BearingPoint, Inc.

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