BI Dashboards Drive Standardization

Sharing goals, objectives, and Six Sigma stats

The business intelligence (BI) dashboard is nothing new, but a growing chorus of industry watchers are touting its emergence as an ideal tool to drive standardization across an enterprise.

They’re not talking simply about standardization across disparate BI tools. That’s a concern, to be sure, but an even more alarming prospect is the lack of standardization—with respect to employee and executive coherence about an organization’s goals and objectives—at all levels of the enterprise.

Cathy Benko, global e-business practice leader with Braxton, formerly Deloitte Consulting, says that in any given enterprise environment, the goals and objectives of most knowledge workers aren’t aligned with the broader strategic goals and objectives of the organization itself. “There’s a statistic that says that fewer than 15 percent of employees can even articulate [an organization’s] goals and objectives.”

It’s in this respect, suggests David Folger, VP of enterprise analytic strategies with consultancy Meta Group, that dashboards can play an important role in aligning the energies of employees and enterprises alike. “If you’re managing a company, you want to set some objectives, so that you can get your employees to easily see what the goals are and how the organization is doing.”

The BI dashboard—which features a display of information customized for the responsibilities or interests of executives, analysts, or knowledge workers—provides a quick, intuitive way to help drive coherence at all levels of the enterprise, Folger argues. “For non-technical users, especially, dashboards are relatively easily understood than some of the other query and reporting and OLAP tools. Typically from a dashboard, if you see some of your indicators out of line, you can drill down on that particular indicator and find out why.”

Not surprisingly, Michael Smith, product marketing manager with BI specialist Cognos, agrees. He notes that companies that have implemented initiatives such as Six Sigma to improve the overall quality of their operational performance can use BI dashboards to render the array of Six Sigma statistical information in the context of metrics that are easily understood by executives and knowledge workers alike. “If you look at one of those algorithms from the Six Sigma initiative, I get that at a glance from a dashboard. Now there are very few employees in any organization … who can really look at the drawings and the spreadsheets and the cross paths of a Six Sigma initiative and understand what they mean and how they are contributing to it.”

Cognos has marketed a BI dashboard for years, Smith says, but in tandem with the rise of initiatives such as Six Sigma, has sought to augment its offering with more powerful Scorecard-ing capabilities, in the form of its Cognos Metrics Manager. The tool lets companies model plans or strategies in sets of inter-connected performance indicators, which—Smith suggests—makes it easier to communicate goal-driven metrics to employees at all levels. “What [these employees are] finding is that a BI tool allows them to make a much more intuitive user interface” for a lot of the “complex statistical tools” that are usually associated with operations or performance management, he concludes.

Of course, the BI dashboard has always been a powerful tool for standardization across disparate tools as well, points out Mike Schiff, an analyst with consultancy Current Analysis Inc. “A lot of [IT organizations] have more than one [BI] tool, or several warehouses, and so [dashboards have] emerged as a popular way of standardizing [across them]. The idea is that you can use one front-end [tool] to get at all of this [information].”

One user who likes the unified presentation aspect of the BI dashboard is Mike Boggs, a project manager and architect with U.S. Cellular Corp. Boggs and Unified Cellular are using PowerAnalyzer 4.0, a BI tool from Informatica Corp. that exploits a dashboard-type view to provide a consolidated display of BI information. Boggs reports that PowerAnalyzer “is very well-received” and says that his users “like the single source of information where they go to log into PowerAnalyzer and have all of the data there in front of them, it’s not in different tools, in different warehouses, different spreadsheets.”

About the Author

Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.

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