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How Business Sponsors Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dashboard

by Stephen Swoyer
More than many other business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) projects, dashboards are frequently championed by executive or line-of-business sponsors.

Why are dashboards so hot? Well, they've got an intuitive user interface, for one thing, and thanks to a roster of slick new interactive features (and the Web 2.0 application model), they're built for both speed and portability, too. And there's also a sense in which dashboards are the enterprise's favorite children. More than many other business intelligence (BI) and performance management (PM) projects, dashboards are frequently championed by executive or line-of-business sponsors. And with strong top-down support right out of the gate, it's no wonder dashboards seem to have so much momentum.

"Dashboards are most likely sponsored by [the] business. Many times the projects have dashboards as a component of a bigger BI or PM project. This is actually a good combination," says Tony Politano, author, lecturer, and partner with BI consultancy BusinessEdge Solutions Inc. "The dashboards ensure business buy-in and alignment and adding BI/PM gets closer to closing out the loop when the dashboards can not answer the 'why' questions."

In this respect, Politano counsels, business buy-in is key—even if the line-of-business organization hasn't yet considered a dashboard strategy. "From a funding perspective, IT professionals would be highly advised to seek out the business sponsor of the dashboards, even if the IT folks do not feel the user is ready for dashboards. They may be pleasantly surprised at the enthusiasm, and yes, funding that can be generated," he points out.

Industry veteran Cindi Howson, a principal with BIScorecard.com, says that business sponsorship is as important for dashboards as it is for any other BI project. "Any BI project needs a business sponsor, dashboards are just one component [of this]," she says.

At this point, anyway, the dashboard hasn’t yet displaced ad hoc query and reporting as the business sponsor’s darling, Howson says. "Business query [or ad hoc query] tools still get the most traction and according to two different surveys I’ve done come out on tops in terms of import because it puts the power in the hands of business users—they don’t have to wait on IT to answer their questions," she comments. "Questions can be asked and answered at the speed of business change—constant—and to find new opportunities. Dashboards help with monitoring what you already know is important."

This is a point echoed by Evan Levy, a partner and co-founder with BI and PM services firm Baseline Consulting. He sees the dashboards more as a tool for monitoring business information—rather than uncovering business insights. "Initially, BI was focused on the ability to identify problems sooner rather than later. Dashboards allow a means of monitoring business issues that require attention," he indicates. "In the retail world, this may mean an 'out of stock' situation. In customer support organizations, it could mean understanding peak call volumes and average call duration. Dashboards have allowed us to evolve BI emphasis away from 'what should I look at?' to 'what should I act on?' And it's not about making BI mainstream--it's about making information mainstream."

Elsewhere, industry veterans caution, users need to be careful that they don’t overdo it when it comes to their dashboard efforts. True, they can expose just about any kind of information to users via dashboards—but do they really want to? "All along, I have been a fan of less is more for dashboards. I see too many ineffective implementations at organizations that have great visualization of irrelevant data. This brings out the sore spot of mine of people trying to turn dashboards into portals," Politano indicates. "If you have an executive dashboard, why the heck would you need the weather on there—unless your business is highly weather dependent? The combination of avoiding the glut of data on dashboards and the 'portalizing' [effect] are what I see as very serious critical success factors of effective dashboardization."

Politano also waxes clairvoyantly about one of dashboardization’s most sacred cows: the dashboard as a tool to help drive the convergence of BI and PM in the enterprise. "Convergence would be nice, and I think that there is actually a correlation with the ongoing vendor mergers to moving from dreamland to reality. As the large vendors such as Oracle, SAP, IBM and Microsoft build up their portfolios, there will be both product-specific growth in the BI & PM product lines and cross-product innovations," he predicts. "It is the cross-product innovations where I think we will see the emergence of the Dashboard = ‡” BI + PM. It makes sense in that it is a natural outgrowth of the existing technologies, and it is a revenue path for the vendors."


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Stephen Swoyer -

Stephen Swoyer is a technology writer based in Athens, Ga. You can contact Stephen via E-mail at swoyerse@percipient-analytics.com.