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The Business Intelligence Dashboard:
Driving Commerce into the 21st Century

  Article published in DM Direct Special Report
December 13, 2005 Issue
  By David Langston

Historically, business intelligence (BI) technology has included a mix of information delivery and analysis tools - ad hoc query and reporting, enterprise reporting, multidimensional analysis, graphical data visualization, and so on. Three years ago, few people had heard of a BI dashboard. Today, approximately one-third of enterprise businesses use dashboards to conduct business analysis.

What is the reason for this overnight phenomenon? Dashboards provide unprecedented visibility into business operations through simple graphics such as gauges with color-coded signals, charts and tables within a Web browser. Dashboards have gained widespread appeal because they link cause-and-effect relationships between operational data in a way that traditional reports can't. Dashboards present a wide range of customized metrics in a consolidated one-screen view and contain drill-down capabilities that allow users to click on summary data and trace it back to the source.

The drive to implement a BI dashboard is just beginning. Through a series of executive-level interviews regarding information pertaining to dashboard trends, Riley Research Associates determined that one out of four enterprise companies intends to implement a dashboard solution in 2005. The interviews were part of a nationwide market survey titled "Dashboard Adoption & Use." issued on behalf of Noetix Corporation, creators of the Noetix Dashboard solution. The survey was conducted in order to gain insight into the following perceptions about dashboards:

  • Use and awareness
  • Challenges faced and potential benefits,
  • Organizational value, and
  • Purchase intent and estimated implementation time.

The survey results offer an interesting view of how dashboard reporting is changing business management and extending the notion of BI from the boardroom to the ground floor.

Use and Awareness

Just as an automobile's dashboard provides a quick look at the critical information needed to operate a vehicle, a BI dashboard serves a similar purpose. A dashboard can be described as a visual display of the most important information needed to drive a business. Data is consolidated and arranged on a single screen so the information can be monitored at a glance, assisting the user in making long-term strategic decisions for a corporation, running the daily operations of a specific department or performing tasks relevant to a single job. For example, a dashboard can provide a pie chart that shows past-due accounts by dollar impact or number of invoices, or a line graph that details staffing by employee type. Revenue can be broken out by individual product, region or department and displayed as a spreadsheet, changing dynamically based upon a list of values the user selects.

According to industry analysts and recent market surveys, executive management will rely progressively more on BI dashboards to drive their businesses forward. Riley Research found that one-third of the companies surveyed said they now use dashboards to conduct business analysis. Also, the larger the organization, the more likely it is to rely on the real-time information contained within dashboards.

The top three features or types of data that respondents said they would like to see are customizable reports, performance information and financial information. When asked which positions might benefit most from the information provided by dashboards, CEO, CFO and COO were cited significantly more than any other title.

Challenges Faced and Potential Benefits

An executive manager running a business with hundreds of employees, each of whom is responsible for a range of functions and tasks, faces constant challenges and always has a greater need to have a handle on the business. Lack of access to data housed in multiple complex and fragmented data sources, regulatory compliance requirements, dynamic business environments and ongoing budgetary constraints can often prove to be obstacles to efficiency and insight. Though IT staff likely provides BI reports, briefings and analysis, executives may be receiving too much data overall - though not necessarily the right data at the right time.

Dashboards solve this problem by presenting data in real-time and offering a variety of information from all facets of the organization - financial to operational. Armed with immediate access to key performance indicators (KPIs) such as budget review and planning, human resource benefits and status on sales and revenue goals, executives now have access to the intelligence necessary for responding to exceptional conditions without having to rely on IT resources to consistently maintain customized reports.

When executives who participated in the Riley Research survey were asked about the benefits they associated with dashboards, the top answers were:

  • Up-to-date and instant information,
  • One-screen information,
  • Information and financials tracking, and
  • Problem identification.

Up-to-date and instant information remained at the top of the list even when respondents were read a list of many other potential benefits, reinforcing its importance.

Organizational Value

There is clearly a wide-ranging spectrum of executive expectations regarding a dashboard's value. With the right technology, cost and implementation times can be minimized, and return on investment (ROI) and the overall value of immediate access to information can be maximized. Technological innovations have provided solutions that can show how a business is performing at any moment. These solutions have the capability to ultimately change the culture of a business by transforming it into a performance-accountable company. In order for this to happen, management must commit to increasing each employee's understanding of what drives success: How do today's sales compare to last year's sales and forecasts for next year? How much inventory do we need to meet our goals? Are we meeting service and support goals on a daily basis?

Dashboards provide insights that let employees see the big picture and understand how their job and actions impact the rest of the company. At first, dashboards were exclusively targeted to high-level executives who needed more insight into business performance. Given an increased focus on performance management, accountability and regulatory compliance, executives are seeing the value in deploying dashboards to their managers and employees across the organization. This market shift is timely, as available technologies in the industry today are better suited for broad deployments at lower costs.

Purchase Intent and Estimated Implementation Time

According to leading industry analysts, the market for interactive data visualization tools will grow by 7.5 percent a year through 2007, reaching almost $7 billion. Industry analysts view this category as including software ranging from visually intensive engineering applications and image-editing software to geospatial information management tools and animation software. Also included are tools - maps, diagrams and dashboards - that bring data visualization to executives, line-of-business managers and analysts.

According to the Riley Research survey, the purchase of a dashboard solution is in the future of nearly half of the respondents. Companies earning over $1 billion in sales are significantly more likely to purchase a dashboard in less than one year than other income brackets, as are companies in the computers and machinery manufacturing industries. Three in ten respondents said they already own a dashboard solution.

Building and deploying an executive dashboard can take a considerable amount of time, regardless of the vendor or technology that is chosen. At a high level, it may seem relatively easy to build one. Companies often assume that once they have a good handle on what KPIs are of strategic importance, collecting and summarizing supporting data and putting it in one place should not be difficult. However, such oversimplification can lead to a failed project before it ever gets off the ground.

Creating the graphical front end is relatively quick and easy, but that is merely the shell. Populating the dashboard with relevant KPIs takes the majority of the development effort. This is no small task and is largely dependent upon the complexity of the systems where the data resides. Promises of an overnight dashboard solution are often misleading. All of the tasks involved in a dashboard implementation require planning, organization, coordination, scheduling and solid project management. Correctly designed and implemented, a dashboard has the potential to bring immediate ROI to an organization.

Regarding estimated implementation time, the majority of respondents think dashboard development and implementation would take between one and six months. Roughly one in five respondents think implementation can take less than a month.

BI dashboards have the capability to drive a culture of transparency and accountability throughout the organization. They monitor progress toward achieving corporate, department and individual goals. In this type of culture, managers have an even greater opportunity to jump on opportunities or intervene quickly when things go awry based on the information they can access via their dashboard. At the same time, employees at all levels can get the information they need without calling the IT help desk.

The "Dashboard Adoption & Use" survey has helped unveil perceptions of BI users on dashboard use and awareness, potential benefits and liabilities, organizational value, purchase intent and estimated implementation time of dashboards. These results prove that dashboard reporting is changing the face of business management and extending the notion of BI from the boardroom to the ground floor. Clearly, the market for dashboard solutions is growing rapidly and will continue to do so throughout the coming decade.



For more information on related topics visit the following related portals...
Business Intelligence and Metrics/KPI/BSC.

David Langston, senior vice president of sales and marketing, comes to Noetix with over 17 years of industry experience in enterprise applications and business intelligence. He is responsible for driving the growth of the Noetix suite of products and services and for market positioning, communications and analyst relations. Prior to joining Noetix, Langston held a variety of senior management positions at Oracle Corporation. Prior to Oracle, he spent six years with IBM. For more information about Noetix, go to http://www.noetix.com or call (866) 4NOETIX.

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