An essential element to any Business Intelligence (BI) initiative is delivering critical business information to decision-makers on time.
As a result, Dashboards have become the “must have” tool for companies looking for a fast, efficient method to access management data and enhance corporate performance.
However, despite the fact that senior decision-makers are clamouring for Dashboards, they are often reluctant or unprepared to invest the time and resources needed to ensure their Dashboards are an effective BI tool, meet their information needs and provide a reasonable ROI. In fact, badly designed Dashboards will drive business users back to their familiar spreadsheets which are time-consuming, error-prone and can actually defeat the purpose of implementing a BI initiative.
With the right technology and design, Dashboards can provide customised, mission-critical information. Effective, relevant dashboards require careful design and planning and nobody wants to invest in something that looks cool but is uninformative and unusable.
By incorporating the following elements into your design and implementation process, you will be able to develop an effective dashboard with a high degree of user acceptance which includes the operational and management improvements outlined here.
Before implementing a BI initiative it is important to have a clear strategy and agreement on the expectations of your executive management team. Clear management direction is vital to the overall success of the project, particularly in companies where information has not been readily accessible and available. A clear strategy will also provide the framework for your design and implementation process and allow you to establish key business users and supporters early in the process.
What do your business users need?
Involving your business users in the design process allows you to determine what business information is relevant to help them drive the business forward. When you have determined what information should be included on the Dashboard, you can establish how it should be presented by asking your business users about format preference. This will help to ensure that users come to rely on their Dashboards and have fast and easy access to the information they need.
Test, re-test and test again
A/B or Split Testing is frequently used in the Marketing domain to identify which of two variables generates a more positive response. This approach can be adopted at many levels throughout the process to ensure that you are meeting the anticipated and actual needs of your users. By developing a prototype and an alternative, you will quickly be able to establish user preference. However, it is important to continue to test your design as refinements and modifications are made. This re-testing keeps you on track with your users’ requirements and also helps to ensure that critical aspects of the information and the design are not lost in the process.
Substance versus Style
Your Dashboard should provide the most relevant information in a concise, easy-to-understand format. Amazing colours and graphics will not compensate for a lack of relevant and timely data. Always ensure that your business users have identified the data they really need as well as the information they would like to have. Throughout your testing process, it is imperative that you establish and re-establish the data that is to be included on the Dashboard and then ensure that the data is collected and integrated to provide a consolidated view of organisational performance.
Drill down capability on a Dashboard is also an important consideration. This not only informs decision makers about the performance of the business, but allows them to examine underlying causes and trends. Your Dashboard should allow users to access multiple levels of data, based on their need for specific details.
Sometimes Less is More
Good Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) reflect your organisation’s goals and are measurable and actionable. Well defined KPIs keep everyone in the organisation focused on the factors that are critical to the success and competitiveness of the business. As a standard management practice, the executive management team develops a small number of KPIs for the company as a whole, and in turn, business units develop a small number of KPIs in support of the corporate KPIs. Key Performance Indicators should be kept to a minimum and should be limited to those factors that are essential to the business’s success.
This level of focus is essential when you’re developing your Dashboards. Too much information on a Dashboard is overwhelming and unnecessary. Similarly, it is important to be able to customise your Dashboards so that decision makers with divergent needs have access to the specific, critical business data they need.
Again, consultation, group and A/B testing with your users will enable you to develop a Dashboard with KPIs that are meaningful, tangible and actionable, greatly improving overall corporate performance.
Adaptable and Flexible
Dashboards only work if they present useful information that can be used to foster strategic decisions and allow users to take action to maintain operational efficiency and profitability. To maintain high-performing Dashboards, you should ensure that your BI system is easily modified and updated to respond to rapidly changing business information needs. If your data and analytics become stale, outdated or redundant, then the relevance of your Dashboards is greatly reduced and user acceptance will drop.
When your business has invested the resources in developing and introducing a BI initiative, nobody wants to see it fall by the wayside because it has been improperly maintained. Be sure to continue regular consultation with your users to ensure that the content on your Dashboards is business-driven, relevant and actionable.