Business intelligence dashboards are stuck in the past. It may be controversial to say but it's true – not much has changed over the past few decades when it comes to BI dashboards. Sure, we've defined some decent design rules, some guidelines for developing good, traditional dashboards. But a lot of the dashboards I see as VP of Solutions Delivery at arcplan don't adequately address the needs of today's executives, who need cross-functional views of KPIs from various departments in order to make good decisions. We aren't living in a silo' world; decision makers need regular access to KPIs from finance, marketing, sales, operations and HR to make good decisions. Do you have a dashboard that enables this kind of view?
If not, let's examine what's wrong with your BI dashboards:
1. Their silo'd foundation is a hindrance.
In the early years of data warehouse development, data was stored according to functional areas or departments. Finance, Sales, and Operations each had their own data marts and corresponding dashboards for each department. In today's business environment, dashboards that are silo'd like your data don't accommodate your needs. With hundreds or even thousands at KPIs in use at your company – and limited time to access and evaluate them all – a silo'd approach to data access is problematic. You need to access important information at a moment's notice, not waste time logging into individual systems or viewing separate dashboards to get the data you need to make informed decisions. You've probably quickly grown weary of this process and you may even be settling for whatever information is most convenient to use, which – needless to say – is usually not the best option. An ideal dashboard solution bridges multiple information sources to give you a holistic view of the organization – one that matches your role and includes only relevant KPIs.
2. There's a "Where’s Waldo?" element to finding the right KPIs.
Recently I had a meeting with one of arcplan's customers in the US, who explained that their arcplan system has grown to manage 4,000 KPIs in just 5 years. Then the discussion turned to how this situation is fairly unmanageable. If someone tells you that the Daily Sales Outstanding (DSO) KPI is on the fourth menu of a particular finance dashboard under "operational KPIs," it's going to be pretty tough to find. If you are able to find it, you may never be able to get back there again. A better way would be to see all of the KPIs that pertain to your daily decision-making in once place.
3. They're giving you a "31 flavors problem."
Have you ever been to an ice cream shop offering so many flavors that you're paralyzed to make a choice? Having too many options, even when it comes to KPIs, makes it difficult to find and discern what's valuable and what's not.
If you have 4,000 KPIs in place, you're likely diluting the truly important metrics. Not everything labeled as a KPI actually qualifies as a KPI. Ventana Research says "the KPI, its use and its value have been dumbed down in ways that diminish the quality of intelligence we gain from using business analytics." In effect, when everything is a KPI, nothing is a KPI. Business managers should continually question the relevancy and validity of each KPI as it relates to understanding the changing business environment, and limit "KPI intake" to just those selections. This can help reduce the 31 flavors problem – less choices should equal better choices, but still – decision makers may have a hard time distinguishing the 6-10 really important KPIs from 100 or more options.
4. They're asking for a "forever commitment."
Many dashboards fall short of the ideal because they are too rigid – they're not designed to be dynamic enough for today's decision-makers. Your dashboard might track 6 KPIs, enable a bit of drill down, and some filtering. But essentially it's a static screen, and that is the kind of "forever commitment" that doesn't help anybody. A truly useful dashboard would be one you as the user create yourself by subscribing to the relevant KPIs that appear on the dashboards and reports you sift through every day. You could choose 2 charts from one dashboard, 1 chart from another, and so on, extracting just the portions of the dashboards that you need. And you could unsubscribe to metrics as they lessen in importance over time. Dashboards should not be a forever commitment, but should be flexible enough to meet your changing business needs.
It's time to rethink what dashboards should be. In my next post I'll cover how you can overcome these challenges.